On driving habits

I’m taking a short break away from the Lowlands, which gives me a good chance to reflect on the driving habits of my current compatriots.

There’s no doubt that the crowdedness of the country contributes to the overall feeling of aggression on the road. Behaviours such as tailgating, switching lanes with no signaling, not keeping to the right, relatively frequent use of the middle finger, all adds up to a pretty harrowing experience.

Taking into account the prevalance of biking as a serious mode of tranportaion in the country, perhaps this should not e a surprise.

Compared to the 2 cars per family (if not more) of more spacious lands, most Dutch families, when possible with work, make do with one car. That means a large portion of drivers on the road use cars only very occasionally.

I think of it this way: all those times much of North America spends on the road, driving to and from work, to the grocery store, going to movies, picking up kids from school; the average Dutch spends that time honing his ability to tackle various obstacles placed in front of his bike.

It would seem to me that as trivial as driving might be as a task, there is something to be said about practice. In my two years here, I have witnessed some truly mind-boggling driving behaviors that I can only attribute to time substituted on the bikes. In all fairness though, I’m also only on the road on the weekends too, so the sample is probably slanted towards the more amateurish set of weekend drivers. Alas, irony strikes as cloggie land mandates very expensive driving schools (around three thousand euros). And perhaps recognizing a rather unfortunate deficiency in manners, there are now discussion on driving exam touch-up when people renew their driving licences.

Fathers wanted but not necessary, and other links for the long weekend

FT– It is quite clear that an isolated discussion of the need to reduce fiscal deficits will not work.

oecd.org– Since 1990, the number of people worldwide living in absolute poverty has fallen by about half a billion. What’s changed? In large part, China.

spiked-online.com– If growth scepticism were to be summed up in one phrase, it is “I’m in favour of economic growth, but…”’.

WSJ– Danone is among a vanguard of Western multinationals staking much of their future on the world’s poor.

thegreenskeptic.com– Drive 100 miles and you need to charge up, and there is currently very little infrastructure to support electric vehicle charging.

Voxeu– Do buyers discriminate based on race?

eurointelligence.com– If excessive austerity is imposed on Spain, the result will be even more miserable than for Korea, with at least as bad international impact.

NY Times– Ireland is pinning nearly all its hopes on an export revival to lift the economy.

blogs.telegraph.co.uk– Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says the Fed is slowly losing its marbles.

tnr.com– “Is this revolution a creature of globalization, or does global capitalism owe some of its energy and resilience to global English in all its manifestations?”

theatlantic.com– A paternal contribution may not be as essential as we think.

telegraph.co.uk– Women’s bodies have become so associated with sex that now a mothers’ magazine has called breast-feeding ‘creepy’.

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Post-crisis Greece

businessweek.com– Many Greeks view the state with a combination of a sense of entitlement, mistrust, and dislike similar to that of teenagers vis-à-vis their parents.

US Federal Reserve– “It is not the wolf at the door but the termites in the walls that require attention. The sooner the house’s structure is strengthened, the better.”

FT– It is time to recognise that Greece is not just suffering from a liquidity crisis; it is facing an insolvency crisis too.

blogs.ft.com– The eurozone’s most vulnerable economies are getting little benefit from the euro’s fall because they are too inflexible and uncompetitive.

standpointmag.co.uk– The least bad option would be for the German bloc to leave EMU. Germany’s banks might still have to be recapitalised, but it would be less costly than trying to “rescue” Greece.

The Economist– Rich countries with their greying populations should be saving whereas younger, fast-growing developing countries should be borrowing heavily. But in fact it is the other way round.

NY Times– Austrian banks slowly recover from a sharp economic downturn and tries to pay down a pile of private-sector debt.

marketwatch.com– We’re still living in a fantasyland. Most people have no idea what’s really going on in the economy.

WSJ– Hayek understood that the opposite of top-down collectivism was not selfishness and egotism. A free modern society is all about cooperation.

Newsweek– We may be reaching the limits of economics. The disconnect between theory and reality seems ominous.

newyorker.com– Financial illiteracy isn’t new, but the consequences have become more severe, because people now have to take so much responsibility for their financial lives.

cjr.org– Rolling Stone made a virtue of the fact that it is not wedded to the news cycle in order to produce journalism that helped drive it.

seedmagazine.com– No animal spends more of its allotted time on earth fussing over sex than homo sapiens.

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Unworkable compromises

Modest salaries, high taxes, but high level of social safety net: that was the social contract stricken between the governments and their peoples across post-war European lands, in various forms. The welfare manifests itself in various forms: high level of labour market protection, unemployment benefits, guaranteed pension, subsidized housing and education, etc.

With greying populations and a fiscal trend that can only predict more costs and less tax revenues, the most logical thing for governments to do would’ve been to save more and borrow less.  Growth does not seem to be an option.

But that is hardly an attractive option with voters with their own interests to protect.  Voting with their ages and the social contract they still believe they are entitled to, working-class Europeans bought into their politicians’ utopian vision that they can live better without actually making things better.

Spain is now grappling with the highest unemployment level of Europe. And many people have no savings.  After all, why bother with financial literacy and savings when you can never be sacked from your job, are supposedly guaranteed a pension, and are entitled to live forever in subsidized housing?  And the perverse incentives of paternalistic policies is hardly unique to Spain, so you can betcha that this story of broken promises will only be repeated in more versions than one in the coming years.

In Greece, the trouble seems to be compounded with a troublesome political past (as recent as the 80s):

The Greek crisis reminds us that while Greece is a part of Western Europe, it is also a place where hammers and sickles and “F—- the Police” decorate the city walls; where references to civil wars and world wars and postwar American meddling come up in daily conversation; where immigrants fleeing violence and economic plunder scramble atop the life raft of Greece’s fragile European shores, only to fester in homogenous Athens. It is also a country that in some ways still mirrors the lands across the Mediterranean—the countries of North Africa and the Middle East that continue to be strangled by Third World ways and won’t simply acclimate to the rules of the West as one might have hoped.

A all-too-speedy embrace of American-style materialism without paying its dues:

“Greece had the mentality of the nouveau riche. We borrowed, and we spent.” The nation hungered for new status symbols. A 2008 Nielsen report found that, of all the countries in the world, Greece cared most about designer labels, trampling Hong Kong (the runner-up) in its taste for brand names.

And an even more profligate vote-buying arrangement:

Stereotypes of Greek people as lazy and sun-stroked may have roots in the public sector: For decades politicians plied poor citizens with cushy jobs and pensions in exchange for votes. The 2004-09 conservative New Democracy government added over 85,000 public-sector jobs in its tenure; the public sector accounts for 40 percent of Greece’s GDP and 15 percent of the active workforce. The government isn’t even sure how many people it employs. As Jens Bastian, an ELIAMEP economist, explains, “Every Greek has a relative who works as a civil servant in the public sector, excluding the military and police. Reducing employment levels in the public sector immediately becomes a very touchy, family affair.”

Little India in the middle of New Jersey

Hilarious account on the growth in Indian immigration in a small New Jersey town, which experienced the same kind of demographic and population shift that countless other towns and cities must have gone through in North America.

In the 11 years I lived in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, that area transformed from a place with gangs and hookers to a place with gays and transvestite hookers to a place with artists and no hookers to a place with rich families and, I’m guessing, mistresses who live a lot like hookers.

And what successful assimilation looks like, tongue in cheek.

[I]f you look at the current Facebook photos of students at my old high school, J.P. Stevens, which would be very creepy of you, you’ll see that, while the population seems at least half Indian, a lot of them look like the Italian Guidos I grew up with in the 1980s: gold chains, gelled hair, unbuttoned shirts. In fact, they are called Guindians. Their assimilation is so wonderfully American that if the Statue of Liberty could shed a tear, she would. Because of the amount of cologne they wear.

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An end to the pursuit of happiness, and more

weblogs.hitwise.com– Since it forced users to register in order to view its content, the Times has lost market share.

The Economist– The future for blogs may be special-interest publishing.

themoneyillusion.com– If you disagree with someone, their views will always seems simplistic.

NY Times– Media organizations can file all the briefs they want about protecting their work product from free-riders and insurgent hordes of digital pilot fish, but once they break their own rules and start feeding on one another, the game is over.

niemanlab.org– Blogging, uploading photos, editing Wikipedia entries — these are all symptoms of the surplus put to use. And they should be celebrated as such.

blogs.ft.com– Japanese executives seem to have had more difficulties handling relations with their Chinese workers than western competitors.

hollywoodreporter.com– Congress has driven a stake through the heart of movie boxoffice futures trading.

Reuters– Reducing deficits while at the same time accelerating economic growth: is it a chimera, or does it actually exist?

Business Insider– The pain of austerity will be far higher in European than it would be in the US, which makes the European austerity vs. U.S. stimulus divide just perverse.

econospeak.blogspot.com– Unless one is in a world of uniformly small, highly open economies, aggressive Keynesianism can be justified one country at a time. But the US is not one of those.

spiegel.de– The G-20 is now threatening to become a club of members that blame each other for their problems.

theatlantic.com– Instead of asking parents and non-parents whether they are happy right now, we might ask whether they are becoming more like the people they want to be.

NY Times– Iceland’s capital elect itself a former comedian.

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All truth, all the time, and other readings for Monday morning

Business Insider– Spain faces a confluence of events in July, whereby it will need to finance 21.7 billion euros within a single month.

time.com– To the extent that China is using Africa as an experiment — to try out ideas of how it might be in the world — its African adventure is worthy of close study.

WSJ– Cluelessness is all too common in our expert-mediated world.

ivanhoff.com– The difference between a short term loans and a good value investor is that the former knows how to time its entry properly.

footballpolemics.wordpress.com– Through group play, 2010 is indisputably the lowest scoring World Cup in history.

VoxEU.org– Hard industrial policies should be replaced by soft industrial policies in developing countries, where collaboration is the key.

psyfitec.com– We need more and better quantitative modeling to improve the models, not less. But along with this we need better management and understanding of what these models mean.

Infectious Greed– The startup financing landscape has been transformed: a combination of ease of entry, lower capital requirements, failing incumbent VC firms, and general fervor has driv…

gigaom.com– When Facebook launched its Open Graph protocol in April, blanketing the web with “like” and “recommend” buttons, it seemed obvious that one of the company’s goals was to…

blogs.discovermagazine.com– Touching rough sandpaper makes social interactions seem more adversarial, and when sitting on a hard chair, negotiators take tougher stances but if they sit on a soft on…

esquire.com– What could possibly go wrong with all truth, all the time? Creepiness, for starters.

Wired– The act of public confession may help reinvigorate the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is gravely weakened by alcohol abuse.

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The ultimate Englishman

From an obituary of Norman Macrae, whom was the deputy editor of The Economist for 23 years.

For all his interest in the rest of the world, he was a very English figure.  His ideas were rooted in the English liberalism of the 19th century – a liberalism that celebrated the individual over the collective, progress over reaction, free thought over superstition.

And on his championship of limited governance and individual freedom:

His 1975 survey on America’s 200th birthday, in which he chastises the Democrats for flirting with the Fabian cult of government expertise, conservatives for flirting with religious extremism, and business for underinvesting in innovation, might easily be a portrait of Barack Obama’s America. Big government has been on the march for much of the past decade. The Beijing consensus celebrates the alliance of big government and big companies. Much of the public sector has resisted the power of vouchers and internal markets.

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Peak lumber, personality differences in the brains, and more for the weekend

Sweet spot for China’s blue-collar revolution
english.caing.com– Recent spate of worker strikes at factories in China, what does it mean for the rest of the world?
iPhone economics and lower barriers to entry
O’Reilly Radar– The App Store created a marketplace that anyone with the appropriate skills can enter. Can it last?
Forget peak oil, peak lumber is coming
Minyanville– The mountain pine beetle is ravaging Canadian forests, leading a long-term bull market in lumber.
When anyone can be a published author
salon.com– Will readers have to flounder in an ocean of slush before the new gatekeepers appear to rescue them?

Finance & Economics
Public sees a future full of promise and peril
pewresearch.org– In the public’s view, the next 40 years promises to be an era of technological progress.
Trichet explains why Soros is wrong about the Euro
cnbc.com– Reforming the real economy in each country in the euro zone is what is needed, according to Trichet.
Sterling is the star
Credit Write Downs– The budget credibility, the lower gilt issuance and reduced risk of a downgrade is helped sterling recover.
Europe: Adrift amid the rift
FT– Economic and financial crisis in the eurozone has exposed deep and long-standing divisions between the two largest European economies.
Fed watch: China, day one
Economists’ View– While China appears willing to adjust the parity rate, changes are likely to be more window dressing than anything else.

The rest
Personality shows up in brain structure
pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com– Personality differences are now being explored biologically in the brain.
Words of the future
thenational.ae– As ebooks increase in popularity, typesetters are working hard to design the ideal fonts for on-screen reading.
Working on a (temp) dream
inthesetimes.com– Welcome to the freelance economy, where workers are atomized, badly compensated and strangely optimistic.
Beating China, India turns world’s top spam source
hindustantimes.com– The top country where spam servers are located is India, accounting for 16.9%, Brazil 8.7%.

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Content flooding in from every direction

Excess content flooding affects not only the online news sphere, but also the book publishing and academic publishing industries, now that self-publishing tools are so readily available.

Bowker, a company that tracks industry statistics, calculated that, in 2009 alone, new titles published outside of “traditional publishing and classification definitions” numbered 764,448. Yes, you read that right: upward of three-quarters of a million books in a single year. Not all of those books were intended for a general readership, but if, say, two-thirds of them were, you could just barely manage to read the first page of every single one of them in the course of year — provided you also gave up eating, sleeping and bathing. (I calculate about one page per minute; your mileage may, of course, vary.) And this is the situation even in the days before we’ve come close to hitting the crest of the new, technology-driven self-publishing boom.

At the same time, libraries are straining under the burden of paying for an explosion of journals.

From 1978 to 2001, libraries at the University of California at Los Angeles, for example, saw their subscription costs alone climb by 1,300 percent.

The amount of material one must read to conduct a reasonable review of a topic keeps growing. Younger scholars can’t ignore any of it—they never know when a reviewer or an interviewer might have written something disregarded—and so they waste precious months reviewing a pool of articles that may lead nowhere.

The content problem isn’t going away.

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I soccer, therefore I am

How do people invoke national football support as a boundary-drawing exercise?

In Scotland support for the national football team is regarded as a legitimate expression of national identity for both Scottish and English folk. The representation of a collective English national identity and ‘their’ stereotypes of the Scottish legitimate the assertion of a shared Scottish national identity, the maximization of differences between the national groups, and the justification for anti-English sentiment.

Moreover, this psychological attachment to Scotland and the Scottish is distinguished from the state of ‘being’ British. In England, respondents can also cast English and Scottish national identity in terms of national football, but treat these as problematic. Whilst the Scots are attributed with performing national identity and (justifiable) antagonisms towards the English through football, it is not acceptable for the English to do so.

Displays of collective English national identity are treated as irrational, a threat to individualism, and reflecting negative associations with hooliganism, xenophobia, and the values of the far Right. The inclusion of far Right hooligans into the sample, who do regard football as a legitimate expression of English nationalism, offers an insight into what the majority of the England-born sample resist.

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Sex tourists inconvenienced by Thailand’s social uprising, and other things of decadence

No end to dementia
The Economist– At a time when research seems to have hit the wall, fundings are tapering off.
Le Monde on the brink
mondaynote.com– One of the reason Le Monde is about to go belly up? Laying off a €50,000 per year print plant employee costs €466,000.
Taking Booz Allen public could be company’s undoing
Washington Post– It is questionable whether Booz Allen can maintain its strong corporate culture that upholds quality, collaboration and customer interests central to its long-term management philosophy, once it goes public.

Euro & Europe
Eating vichyssoise in Athens
nationalinterest.org– A concatenation of crises over the past few months, of which the near bankruptcy of the Greek state is only the most lurid, has heightened an urgent question of which direction, if any, the Continent is now taking.
Hedge funds aggressively cover Euro short positions
marketfolly.com– Hedgies cover euro shorts, continue to short the Russell 2000 futures, long crude oil, and long metals.
Drowning in euros
FT Alphaville– Can a sea of devalued euros save Europe?

Finance & Economics
The benefits of the bust
WSJ– In the new economy emerging from the financial crisis, the self-serving assumptions of efficient, self-stabilizing markets have been discredited, but something will have to be put in their place.
The Terminator comes to Wall Street
theamericanscholar.org– How computer modeling worsened the financial crisis and what we ought to do about it.
Thinkers and tinkerers
tnr.com– At its core, Industrial Revolution was created by connected groups of smart people who stole each others’ ideas and implemented them.
Gold’s ever-so-brief new high
marketwatch.com– Some gold-timers are cautious, if not outright bearish, on gold.

The rest
What happens to Thailand’s sex tourism during the riots?
slate.com– How inconvenient for Thailand to have political turmoil that disrupts elderly men’s Viagra-fueled sex binges. Couldn’t they have waited to hash out their grievances with what they feel is an illegitimate government?
Kick it good
moreintelligentlife.com– What happens when an anarchist creates rules for football?

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Europe’s uncertain century

Since the fifteenth century, the world has been dominated by Europe and taught by Europe and exploited by Europe and made by Europe. After the calamitous experiences of the first half of the twentieth century, Europe had had enough, not least of itself and its own recent history.

The French novelist and essayist is less concerned with the immediate political woes of Brussels and Strasbourg than with a collapse of self-confidence and a spirit of self-flagellation he finds among the former colonizers and masters of the world. This is supposedly manifested in various ways: a drop in the birthrate so drastic that populations are no longer growing and will soon decline in Spain and Italy; a reflexive hostility to the United States, and also to Israel; a self-hating or “miserablist” narrative of national and continental history; and a groveling, guilt-induced refusal to take seriously the threat from militant Islam, a threat which comes not only from as far away as Iran and Afghanistan but more and more from within, as greatly increased Muslim populations challenge, not only by their numbers, but also by their vigor and sometimes their violence, a post-Christian Europe which doesn’t believe in itself anymore and too often retreats into sour Trotzreaktionen.

EU enlargement to the east, integrating the populations within, faced with an increasingly distant America and rising powers elsewhere, what is Europe’s place this century?

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No romance please in new Indian outsourcing firms, and other unexpected emerging market stories

BRIC Special
India outsourcing firms set up shop in smaller towns
latimes.com– Call centres in India have a bad reputation as the breeding ground for inter-office romances. Newer, more rural openings want to avoid that.
EU sees solar power imported from Sahara in 5 years
Reuters– Europe will import its first solar-generated electricity from North Africa within the next five years.
It’s all about China now, get used to it
leighdrogen.com– Focus on companies doing business in China Brazil and India, the three centers of real growth. Says Drogen.
Smart, young, and broke
Newsweek– White-collar workers are China’s newest underclass, the ant class.

Tech & Media
Public Press started online, now turns to print
sfgate.com– One local newspaper is bucking the trend and going back to print.
“The whole music business infrastructure is about selling out”
37signals.com– The whole music business infrastructure, the baby boomer infrastructure anyway, is about selling out.
Why Amazon’s Kindle will eventually win the e-Book wars
gigaom.com– If Amazon wants to keep the device around, it will have to transform it from a mere e-book reader to a content consumption device that matches the iPad in its capabilities.

Business & Finance
Slowed food revolution
prospect.org– Obama seeks to boost demand for organic food but doesn’t offer meaningful support for the people who grow it.
A colossal fracking mess
vanityfair.com– The dirty truth behind the new natural gas.
Freight fright *alert*
FT Alphaville– This particular forward macro-economic indicator experienced its biggest weekly decline since 2008.

The Rest
Why bad guys matter
foreignpolicy.com– At the core of all successful societies are procedures for blocking the advancement of bad men.
Eye of the beholder
moreintelligentlife.com– What does it take to make a hit reality show?
Everything you need to know about the Internet
The Guardian– In spite of all the answers the Internet has given us, its full potential to transform our lives remains the great unknown.
40,000 deaths a year due to junk food

telegraph.co.uk– More than 40,000 Britons are dying unnecessarily every year because of high levels of salt and fat in their diets. Enhanced by Zemanta