Battlepanda: August 2007


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Save the Earth, Shoot a Moose

Moose: the hummer of ruminants:

They are dubbed the “Kings of the Forest” and are regarded by Norwegians as their national symbol.

Now, though, scientists have claimed that because of their burping and farting, the placid moose is an eco killer. During a single year, according to new research, a full-grown moose expels – from both ends – the methane equivalent of 2,100kg of carbon dioxide emissions. That is said to be as destructive for the atmosphere as the emissions released by 13,000km (8,000 miles) of car travel.

“To put it into perspective, the return flight from Oslo to Santiago in Chile leaves a carbon footprint of 880 kilos,” said the biologist Reidar Andersen, a biologist. “Shoot a moose and you have saved the equivalent of two long-haul flights.”

Perhaps it's time to switch to a less-polluting hybrid model?

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Saturday, August 25, 2007


I've never been obsessed about the sound quality of CDs versus MP3s. And while I can "hear" the difference in warmth between vinyl and CDs, the latter never bothered me to the least. I almost never go to live performances. So am I trading away a fuller enjoyment of music for convenience without realizing it?
MP3s have won the war of the formats because of technology, not because of their audio quality. "It's like hearing through a screen door," says neuroscientist Daniel Levitin of McGill University, author of "This Is Your Brain on Music."

But what is the price of inferior audio quality? Can poor audio touch the heart as deeply as better sound? John Meyer, who designs and builds some of the world's best speakers at his Meyer Sound Labs in Berkeley, Calif., doesn't think so.

"It turns you into an observer," Meyer says. "It forces the brain to work harder to solve it all the time. Any compression system is based on the idea you can throw data away, and that's proved tricky because we don't know how the brain works."

It could be that MP3s actually reach the receptors in our brains in entirely different ways than analog phonograph records. The difference could be as fundamental as which brain hemisphere the music engages.

"Poorer-fidelity music stimulates the brain in different ways," says Dr. Robert Sweetow, head of the University of California-San Francisco audiology department. "With different neurons, perhaps lesser neurons, stimulated, there are fewer cortical neurons connected back to the limbic system, where the emotions are stored."

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Tattooed Mortgage Broker

I wonder if this Marketplace radio story is more of a sign that tattoos are gaining respectability or that the profession of Mortgage lending is losing it. Snippet of the transcript below.

Kai Ryssdal: Every summer about this time the same thought strikes me. After a couple of months of short sleeves and tank tops you get a good idea of just how many people these days have tattoos. Clearly, body art's becoming more acceptable. Everywhere from college campuses to the boardroom, as Pat Loeb found out. .

James O'Connor: I got a skull and cross bones on my right side. I have praying hands on my left side, and then a cross in the middle.

James O'Connor is giving me a tour of the tattoos that adorn, it looks like, every part of his body — neck, legs, knuckles and full sleeves on his arms.

O'Connor: He calls this stretch skin, cheese skin, where it's supposed to look like you're almost looking inside, you know?

But the most astonishing moment comes when he tells me what he does for a living.

O'Connor: I'm a mortgage broker.

If ever there was evidence of the changing attitude toward tattoos in the workplace, it is 30-year-old James O'Connor. There was a time when his tattoos would have narrowed his job prospects. But he says his success as a mortgage broker is a sign that tattoos do not carry the stigma they once did.

O'Connor: They might look at me weird for a minute. But as soon as, you know, I explain to them what I know and what I've done, they see dollar signs.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

My Election Choices

My Election Choices have been making the rounds. It's a looooong quiz that asks you to pick out unattributed quotes from presidential candidates and tallying who you agreed with the most. Honestly, while I can appreciate the impressive amount of work that went into making such a quiz and I think the makers have built a very useful quick database of quotes on various issues, I really don't think it's all that good as a predictor of which candidate to support for me.

According to the quiz, Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich and Barack Obama are all co-champions (!) while my preferred candidate, Edwards, only just edge out Joe Biden at the bottom of the Democratic barrow.

So does this mean that I should examine my choice of a preferred candidate? Absolutely not. It means that Hillary got points for bromides such as this:
"You have to balance Second Amendment rights against keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and people who are unstable."

Um, yeah, who can be actually 'for' guns in the hands of the unstable? Meanwhile, Edwards probably lost some points because he talks a moderate talk whereas I am very liberal. So in a lineup of many quotes where I'm pulling out ones that had me nodding my head, Edwards' quotes probably won't pop out at me. But that's a feature not a bug in reality. I don't want a firebreathing liberal in the White House. I want someone whose views are reasonably aligned to mine but who can also reach out to people who are a lot less liberal with success.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Recipes for better journalists

Is it better for reporters to have formal training and subject expertise in their beat? Or is it better for them to go to journalism school and take courses in media studies and ethics and all that before they're allowed near a press conference?

Well, I guess I don't have a horse in this race. I started with both no particularly applicable expertise for my current beat (health primarily) AND no formal education in journalism. In addition to all that, my paper gave me zero training. I had to look up the page on journalism to get up to speed on the lingo.

But of course, I like to think that journalism where my liberal arts education stands me in reasonably good stead. During my time at Amherst I've taken classes in chemistry, economics, psychology, art, english, anthropology, film studies, and horticulture (at Smith College, thanks to the five-colleges exchange program.) I've read my Freud and Foucault and have written enough papers to know how to communicate my ideas. I've also taken enough science classes to know what stupid questions to ask and not be afraid of numbers. Although I have to say I've probably learned more about economics and politics through my blog than I did (or would have) through my school courses, that's really kind of moot because I don't have to deal with those issues.

When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And thus the wonk thinks that journalism needs more wonks, the j-school major thinks that journalism needs j-school majors and inevitably the liberal arts college graduate...well you know.

Honestly though, good reporting is not rocket science, it's hard work and experience (n.b. I'm not saying that I am a good reporter, by the way. Not by a long shot yet.) I honestly don't think the difference between a good reporter and a bad reporter is the background. Lets just go back to Mark's original example here: how to give context for a statement that is clearly untrue (i.e. "the earth is flat"). The reporter is not allowed to simply say "He lied," but there are a multitude of ways to communicate this sentiment in ways that are more concrete and convincing (not that anyone really need the convincing in this example). Am I the only one left who thinks that it is better for the reporter to back up their statements with sources than to leave things to bald statements?

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A look back: Credit Crunch Cassandra edition

My very first post on blogspot. Seems apropos given the recent news. Awww, memories.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Bubble, bubble...[housing trouble]

I've been hanging out a lot at the Angry Bear and other econ blogs lately, and I'm starting to get the feeling, my friends, that we're in for a world of hurt. There's been talk for months and months that the housing market is unsustainable. But now the gloomy sentiment is becoming mainstream. I heard not one, but two stories on NPR yesterday about impeding trouble in the housing sector. Prices in 'hot' markets on the coasts have gone completely insane. The housing boom was initially fueled by rock-bottom interest rates, but now speculation is rearing its ugly head, with 85% of condo sales in Miami going to investors. Meanwhile, even ordinary people are throwing caution to the wind and buying the most house they could, even if it means stretching themselves to the limit financially. They've seen their friends and family refinance their way to the good life, and now they want to get in on the action themselves, just as those who are in the know are starting to worriedly mouth the dreaded word -- 'bubble'.

With so many potential customers clamoring for home loans, the financial industry have come up with many new 'creative' products so that marginal clients who would have been turned away in staider times can grab their piece of the American dream. 35-year morgages. Interest-only payments for three or even five years. Despite historically low interest rates, people are eschewing fixed-rate morgages for adjustable-rate morgages because, in the short term, the payments are lower. You don't have to be Alan Greenspan to foresee that many of those American dreams are going to end in the nightmare of foreclosure and bankruptcy. The banks don't care because as soon as they make the loan they turn around and flip them to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- government sponsored enterprises that buys the loans, no questions asked. Government sponsored -- meaning that if their overstuffed portfolios of questionable quality causes those quasi-corporate behemouths to go down, they're probably going to get bailed out with tax-payer's dollars.

What I did not foresee: that the fallout from the US sub-prime crisis is going to have such a direct domino effect worldwide. Investor's teeth are on edge in this part of the world after the events of the past few weeks, when the markets have first flushed from foreign investment and then quickly blanched as the subprime crisis rocked the US markets. It might actually be a good time to buy local stocks now.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Seig Miao!

A few weeks ago I was just walking down Youngkang streets with my husband and a friend when *bam* along came a cat that was a splitting image of the fuhrer (or should that be the fur-rer) himself.

And of course this had to be submitted to the Cats that look like Hitler website. Here's a link to the page where they put it up.