Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bankrupt City

Detroit's history of industrial decline and financial failure has culminated in bankruptcy. So why have some companies been using the city's name to sell their products?

Detroit's woes are well documented - an economic powerhouse reduced to a shrinking, impoverished and decaying shell of its former self.

It is a story one might expect marketing and branding departments going out of their way to avoid.

But several companies have been trying to turn the brand of Detroit to their advantage, in a trend that marketing experts expect to gather pace.

The most striking example is Shinola, a resurrected shoe polish brand now being used to sell watches, bicycles, leather goods and journals, which plays heavily on its Detroit base.

The company, backed by the financial muscle of venture capital firm Bedrock, says it is the first in decades to produce watches on a large scale in the US. It uses local labour and, where possible, materials - though it sources many watch components from Switzerland and China.

The timepieces have been on sale for about six months in sleek stores with exposed brick interiors in Detroit and New York, but also in shops throughout the US, and in Paris and Singapore. London will be next.

"Across the board it's gone extremely well," says CEO Steve Bock. The company has made some 50,000 watches, which are priced at $475-$850, and says it is struggling to keep up with demand.

One stockist, the Tiny Jewel Box in Washington DC, says it has done a brisk trade, selling more than 60 of the watches since October.

Having "Detroit" on the dial was a source of fascination and pride for many customers, said watch seller Steven Katz. "People would be less likely to balk at the price because it's made in America."

Colette luxury shop in Paris began selling the watches in November and has parted with 50 to 100 so far, for up to 600 euros each. The store's PR manager Guillaume Salmon says the story of Detroit was one of the reasons behind the move.

Shinola's factory is in the former Argonaut building, once General Motors' first research and design studio and now owned by the College for Creative Studies.

Detroit's cheap rents and post-industrial spaces had already been attracting innovative businesses, generating a local buzz.

But before launching, Shinola's backers wanted to test the broader appeal of "made in Detroit", and created focus groups in Dallas.

It found that people seemed keen to give the economy in Detroit, and the US, a hand.

"There's great interest in buying products made in the United States, and I think when we talked about manufacturing products like leather and watches in Detroit that absolutely piqued people's interest," says Bock. "They were very interested in seeing the city rebound."

That marketing opportunity has not been lost on others.

GalaxE.Solutions is a healthcare IT company based in New Jersey that expanded its workforce in Detroit - currently 150 people - after judging that it made economic sense to be in the city.

The company created the slogan "Outsource to Detroit", to encourage others to join a burgeoning US-based IT hub rather than using cheap but sometimes unreliable labour overseas, says CEO Tim Bryan.

That's part of a broader reported trend of businesses being moved back to the US. Figures just released show that in November the US trade deficit fell to its lowest level in four years, a result partly attributed to rising consumption of US-produced goods and services.

GalaxE.Solutions' promotion of Detroit created lots of positive publicity, says Bryan. "The excitement around the renaissance of Detroit is a national phenomenon."

Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at the Kellogg school of management says Detroit is seen as an underdog and its financial misfortune has become an opening for companies.

"If you associate yourself with Detroit, you're associating yourself with a struggle, with managing through difficult times," he says.

Your brand "becomes a brand you want to root for, and a brand you hope will be successful".

Detroit's recovery has a long way to go. But the recent upturn in the sector that has long determined the city's fortunes, the auto industry, has given a big boost.

Chrysler, one of America's "big three" car companies along with GM and Ford, has also made Detroit a focus of its marketing.

The company, which was taken over by Italy's Fiat after a US government rescue, ran a TV advertisement in 2011 called Born of Fire, which starred Detroit rapper Eminem and ended with the slogan "Imported from Detroit".

The advert ran during the Super Bowl, won several awards, and generated more than 15 million views on YouTube when originally posted.

Chrysler's chief marketing officer, Olivier Francois, said the company had chosen to emphasise Detroit because "it's come to stand for a certain resilience".

"It stands for a brand of determination and a general refusal to quit."

Detroit's ties to the auto industry have also lent it an appeal as the "real man's city", says Scott Galloway, who teaches marketing at New York University's Stern Business School.

Detroit "reeks grit and toughness", he says, an association that is strongly male but can appeal to both sexes.

"Associating with a product that makes you feel manly or masculine is an incredible asset, and right now there is no more macho city than Detroit."

[Via BBC]

Sunday, January 19, 2014

College Debt as Next Bubble

This much we know: College pays. You can lose your house to foreclosure, but never your education. Four-year college graduates’ pay advantage over high school grads has doubled over the past 30 years. If money for tuition is tight, the advice goes, borrow what you need. Students have been listening. In 2010 student debt exceeded credit-card debt for the first time. In 2011 it surpassed auto loans. In March, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that student debt had passed $1 trillion. It grew by $300 billion from the third quarter of 2008 even as other forms of debt shrank by $1.6 trillion, according to a separate tabulation by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In a press briefing at the White House in April, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “Obviously if you have no debt that’s maybe the best situation, but this is not bad debt to have. In fact, it’s very good debt to have.”

If student loans are good debt, how do you account for the reaction of Christina Mills, 30, of Minneapolis, when she found out her payment on college and law school loans would be $1,400 a month? “I just went into the car and started sobbing,” says Mills, who works for a nonprofit. “It was more than my paycheck at the time.” Medical student Thomas Smith, 25, of Hamilton, N.J., is $310,000 in debt and is struggling to make ends meet even before beginning to repay his loans. “I don’t even know what I eat,” he says. “I just go to the supermarket and buy the cheapest thing I can and buy as much of it as I can.” Then there’s Michael DiPietro, 25, of Brooklyn, who accumulated about $100,000 in debt while getting a bachelor’s degree in fashion, sculpture, and performance, and spent the next two years waiting tables. He has since landed a fundraising job in the arts but still has no idea how he will pay back all that money. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an obsolete idea that a college education is like your golden ticket,” DiPietro says. “It’s an idea that an older generation holds on to.”

Even if you buy into the notion that education debt is good debt, at what point does it become too much of a good thing? Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, which researches financial aid, estimates that student debt, compounded by rising enrollments, is growing by nearly $3,000 a second.

“The question isn’t the debt per se. It’s what the students are getting in return,” says Richard Arum, a New York University sociologist who specializes in education. Many students are incurring heavy debts for an education (ethnomusicology, theater arts) that just isn’t worth it from a strictly financial viewpoint. (Money isn’t everything, but try telling that to the collection agency.) Education benefits society by creating a workforce that creates wealth, pays taxes, and stays off welfare. But state governments—whose schools educate 7 in 10 students—have raised tuition abruptly because of their own financial problems. So far the federal government has offset the state cutbacks by boosting financial aid, but Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter testified to Congress earlier this year that “this path is not fiscally sustainable.”

There’s a lot of speculation that college debt is the next bubble after housing, the latest sector in which prices leap above real value. American colleges may not be turning out the kind of graduates that employers want. In Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, NYU’s Arum and sociologist Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia write that employers are being forced to turn to foreigners or graduate and professional schools to fill jobs that they once filled with homegrown college graduates.

That’s the value side. The cost side is ugly, too. The economic slump that began in 2007 has forced people to pay more for college even as it has driven more of them into it as a refuge from an unfriendly job market. The National Center for Education Statistics projects that college attendance this fall will be up 19 percent from the fall of 2007. Meanwhile, state and local support for higher education last year was the lowest in 25 years of measurement, in inflation-adjusted dollars per student, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Two-thirds of college seniors graduated with loans in 2010, and those who did had an average of about $25,000, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

The poor, who need the boost that a college education can provide, are suffering the most. Strapped colleges know that they can bring in more revenue from one student paying close to the full load than from a dozen low-income students. So some are bribing rich kids to attend with $10,000 a year they don’t need—grant money that otherwise might have gone to the truly needy. That’s just one of the reasons the lowest-income students are more than three times as likely as the highest-income students to be studying for a certificate or an associate’s degree rather than a four-year degree, according to an analysis of data compiled by FinAid’s Kantrowitz. That leads to lower-paying jobs. Equal opportunity in higher education remains more an ideal than a reality.

Ten years is considered a reasonable period to repay one’s student loans, but many students take 20 or 25 years under extended repayment plans. The New York Fed found that in the first quarter of 2012, people 60 and older were responsible for $43 billion in student loans. It’s not clear how much is from their own studies and how much because they co-signed on their children’s loans, but whatever the case it’s no way to head into retirement.

There are solutions, but each is bound to be resisted by at least some powerful constituency—students, professors, administrators, lenders, or governments.

One huge step would be to allow bankruptcy judges to wipe out education debt, as they could until Congress began to tighten restrictions in 1976. Under today’s punitive statute, judges can discharge student loans only in cases of undue hardship, which in many jurisdictions requires proof of “certainty of hopelessness.” (Congratulations, pal, you’re hopeless!) “The law is much too harsh,” says U.S. Bankruptcy Judge A. Jay Cristol in Miami.

Current law gives lenders no incentive to come to terms with overindebted borrowers. The National Consumer Law Center, in a July report, said “pursuing the most vulnerable borrowers until they die” is inefficient and imposes “significant costs to taxpayers.” To help debtors avoid defaulting in the first place, the center advocates placing them automatically in repayment plans that make the payment a percentage of the borrower’s income rather than a certain dollar amount. Under this “income-based repayment,” which the Obama administration has pushed, any outstanding debt is forgiven after 20 or 25 years.

Colleges should suffer more pain when federal loans go bad, argues Alex Pollock, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. That would make them more careful about raising prices and encouraging students to take out government loans.

Better disclosure would help, too. Some financial aid offer letters don’t even clearly identify loan components of aid packages as debt. Others abbreviate “loan” as L or LN. “Sometimes they have the excuse that they’re limited in the number of characters,” Kantrowitz says, “but they created the form.” The Education Department is developing a form that colleges can use to give prospective students standardized information about how much they will owe upon graduation, what the school’s loan-default and graduation rates are, and so on. In May, Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced a bill to make a standard form mandatory. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators opposes portions of the bill.

School-provided financial aid, far from being charity, is a tool for legal price discrimination—i.e., charging different customers different amounts right up to the limit of their willingness or ability to pay. Most schools dole out grants based on how much they need to discount the sticker price to lure a given student to attend. Financial aid allows them to collect more revenue than if they had to charge every student the same amount. If oranges were sold the same way, a bag of them might cost one family $40 and another $5.

Some of the nation’s wealthiest universities—and some smaller schools such as North Carolina’s Davidson College—have eased the burden on students by replacing all loans with grants in financial-aid packages. That’s noble, but not a realistic solution for all of higher education. “Most colleges are not awash in money. It would be very difficult to dial back the competitive game” of doling out aid to maximize revenue, says Douglas White, a business consultant and higher-education expert in Richmond, Va.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney says President Barack Obama encourages students to take on more debt, “sending them the bill tomorrow.” But Romney is still living down advice he gave to college students in April, telling them to “borrow from your parents” if they need money for school or to start a business. (Parents’ contributions are already figured into financial-aid packages.) Romney also favors reversing a 2010 decision under which the Education Department has tried to save $60 billion over 10 years by making all new federal loans directly, eliminating middlemen.

The most straightforward way to deal with the student debt problem is to bring down the unreasonably high cost of higher education, which forces students to go into debt in the first place. “We can’t just keep shoveling money into a system that consumes resources at an ever-faster clip,” Kevin Carey, then policy director of a nonprofit called Education Sector, told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last winter. Carey, who now directs education policy at the New America Foundation, told the senators about cost-saving initiatives such as those at Virginia Tech, where students learn intro math courses in computer labs rather than watching professors at chalkboards, and the University of Minnesota’s new Rochester campus, whose classrooms and labs are in the former food court and movie theater of a mall. The Minnesota school collaborates with IBM and the Mayo Clinic for advanced courses such as computational biology.

Removing the campus altogether is even cheaper. Online operations such as EdX, Coursera, Khan Academy, and Udacity, among others, offer high-quality instruction at no cost to the student—but don’t yet award degrees. Accrediting agencies, dominated by incumbent schools, are skeptical. A survey published in June by Babson Survey Research Group and Inside Higher Ed found that 58 percent of professors surveyed have “more fear than excitement” about online learning.

Some day, low-cost online education that requires zero student borrowing may displace a big chunk of today’s entrenched establishment. The fact that it hasn’t yet says a lot about the durability of colleges and universities, several of which predate the country’s founding. Rather than places of learning, colleges have become expensive screening mechanisms. It’s not what you learn in four years at Harvard University that impresses potential employers; it’s the fact that you got into Harvard in the first place.

So maybe the real problem is that credentialism has trumped learning. That drives people to get degrees simply to displace others who don’t have degrees, says Richard Vedder, who directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. He notes that the U.S. has more than 100,000 janitors with college degrees and 16,000 degree-holding parking lot attendants.

Political scientist Charles Murray would get rid of the bachelor’s degree altogether. In an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate last October in Chicago, he said education is or at least ought to be a lifelong process for everyone, diploma holders or not. “We are all engaged in the same process,” Murray argued. “We are not divided into professionals and service workers or blue-collar workers. We all start out as apprentices. We become journeymen, and we all strive to become master craftsmen.”

To tell the truth, though, many students are not exactly striving, if Arum and Roksa’s Academically Adrift is correct. Five-year colleges would be a better label for schools, since that’s the average amount of time it’s taking students to get through them. Financial aid is part of the problem: Students equipped with big loan packages can play schools against one another—and what students seem to want is good grades for light work, according to Arum’s research. To combat grade inflation, which has made college transcripts virtually useless to potential employers, Arum recommends that transcripts include the average grade given in a class next to the student’s letter grade. That would be like grading on a curve without having to grade on a curve. Students will presumably study harder, he says, if they know that their grades contain real information for employers and grad schools.

As for paying it all back, it would be going too far to direct students away from, say, ethnomusicology just because it’s less lucrative than nursing or petroleum engineering. Princeton University economist Cecilia Rouse points out that the liberal arts provide benefits to society beyond those that loan officers pay attention to. It’s hard, though, to argue against a standard disclosure form that would tell students about the debt load, unemployment rate, and average first-year income for graduates of the school and the major they’re thinking of committing their lives to.

It may be a while before it’s all solved. In 1939, the New Yorker published a short story called “Ah, the University!” about a well-to-do man who orders his only son to become a professional poker player because he doesn’t want to pay for him to go to college. “Certainly nothing in the world is more delightful than being at the university,” the father says. “The springtime of life! Pleasure after pleasure! … However, I’m not going to send you there.” Perhaps the gentleman was just ahead of his time.

[Via Businessweek]

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Whose Employees Will Make Least Money for Rest of Their Lives

The fast-food industry has deservedly gotten a lot of flak recently for its rock-bottom wages. And it appears that those who end up working jobs in fast food also tend to make not that much money throughout their entire careers, not just while they're flipping burgers.

The data comes from the job search Web site Bright.com, which reviewed 8 million resumes of people who'd worked at a select basket of companies -- those who had listed current or previous employment at the companies -- and found out how many of themever made more than $70,000.

The results were predictable: Employees of fast-food restaurants and some retail establishments stayed low-income forever. Wendy's was the worst performer, with only 5.5 percent of its alumni reaching the $70,000 threshold, followed by the T.J. Maxx companies, Subway, Kohl's, McDonalds, and Macy's. Employees of telecommunications and manufacturing companies fared the best: 53 percent of Ford's employees eventually made more than $70,000, followed by Verizon, Chrysler, AT&T, and Sodexo.

Bright.com also assessed the distribution of salaries within a company's workforce. While the following graph is really difficult to decipher, you can basically tell that many more employees of companies like Ford, Chrysler, and AT&T make decent salaries, while very few people at companies like Wendy's and McDonald's make more than $60,000.

Now, there's no reason to believe that working low-wage jobs necessarily torpedoes your chances of earning a decent living down the road. It's more likely that the collection of circumstances that propel people into those jobs -- lack of education, geographic mobility, or better jobs -- continue to hold them back for the rest of their lives.

The data also calls into question the validity of what we usually consider to be "entry-level" jobs. If a job isn't an entry into a career that moves in a more prosperous direction, it's unclear what real value it really has.

[Via Washington Post]

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to Write about Africa

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.

Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.

Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can’t live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.

Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.

Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction).

Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa's situation. But do not be too specific.

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.

Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the ‘real Africa’, and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or suffering white people.

Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people’s property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil).

After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa’s most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or ‘conservation area’, and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa’s rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.

Readers will be put off if you don’t mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical—Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces. When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use caps).

You’ll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out.

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.

[Via Granta.com]

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why Beethoven Ninth Symphony Is So Popular in Japan

The Symphony No.9 composed by Beethoven is affectionately called "Daiku" in Japanese. Concerts featuring the symphony "Daiku" are held throughout Japan in every December.

Why is "Daiku" so popular in Japan? Why is it performed in December? That facts are stranger than fiction.

Japan had been allied with Great Britain since 1902. When World War I occured in 1914, Great Britain engaged in warfare with Germany, so Japan also declared war against Germany.

The Japanese army using 29,000 soldiers launched a bitter attack on the Qing Tao Fortress in China where 4,300 German soldiers were stationed. Eventually, the German soldiers raised the white flag in surrender. They were detained in several camps in Japan.

There was one camp at a very small town, Bando, on the Shikoku Island during WWI. Captain Toyohisa Matsue ran the camp, but he was an odd director. He treated the prisoners humanely according to the Haag Convention, which was not well known among Japanese commanders then.

He came from the Aidu Domain in the northeast Japan. The Aidu Domain took sides with Shogun in the Meiji Restoration, so they were beaten and massacred by the Imperial Forces. Matsue was a son of an Aidu samurai, who survived the oppression from the Meiji Government, and then entered the military. He decided not to make any of the prisoners feel such humiliation.

The German prisoners of war were treated as such in order to restore their dignity. They showed the people of Bando their advanced skills and technologies in return. Before long, the locals respected the prisoners. There formed a strange friendship.

Then the Ninth Symphony was performed by an orchestra made up of a select group of the prisoners, for the first time. Some Japanese, who had been taught by the prisoners, joined the orchestra. The "Daiku" was very touching. 

Since then "Daiku" had often been performed by Japanese orchestra. It was played as the indication of friendship across nationalities then and became gradually popular.

On December 31, 1940, "Daiku" was conducted by Joseph Rosenstock, perfomed by the New Symphony Orchestra (currently, the NHK Symphony Orchestra) and broadcast live on the radio in order to commemorate the 2,600th anniversary of founding the nation. According to a myth, it is said that the first Emperor Jinmu took to the throne in the year 660 B.C.

When the concert producer was asked why "Daiku" was selected, he answered that there were special performances of the Ninth Symphony throughout Germany every December 31. This is partly because Japan have the tradition of having "Daiku" concerts near the end of the year. To tell the truth, only the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig has the annual concert on New Year's Eve, so the answer was incorrect.

The other reason is the financial problem of an orchestra member. Bill collectors always persecuted debtors in the recession after WWII. They used to demand full repayment from a borrower by New Year's Eve. Musicians were always poor and needed much money in December.

However when "Daiku" would be performed, the concert tickets are always sold out. So they wanted to perform "Daiku" near the end of the year.

[Via Lang-8.com]

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Friendship Paradox

Back in 1991, the sociologist Scott Feld made a surprising discovery while studying the properties of social networks. Feld calculated the average number of friends that a person in the network has and compared this to the average number of friends that these friends had.

Against all expectations it turned out that the second number is always bigger than the first. Or in other words, your friends have more friends than you do.

Researchers have since observed the so-called friendship paradox in a wide variety of situations. On Facebook, your friends will have more friends than you have. On Twitter, your followers will have more followers than you do. And in real life, your sexual partners will have had more partners than you’ve had. At least, on average.

Network scientists have long known that this paradoxical effect is the result of the topology of networks—how they are connected together. That’s why similar networks share the same paradoxical properties.

But are your friends also happier than you are, or richer, or just better? That’s not so clear because happiness and wealth are not directly represented in the topology of a friendship network. So an interesting question is how far the paradox will go.

Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of Young-Ho Eorn at the University of Toulouse in France and Hang-Hyun Jo at Aalto University in Finland. These guys have evaluated the properties of different characteristics on networks and worked out the mathematical conditions that determine whether the paradox applies to them or not. Their short answer is yes: your friends probably are richer than you are.

The paradox arises because numbers of friends people have are distributed in a way that follows a power law rather than an ordinary linear relationship. So most people have a few friends while a small number of people have lots of friends.

It’s this second small group that causes the paradox. People with lots of friends are more likely to number among your friends in the first place. And when they do, they significantly raise the average number of friends that your friends have. That’s the reason that, on average, your friends have more friends than you do.

But what of other characteristics, such as wealth and happiness, which are not represented by the network topology?

To study other types of network, Eorn and Jo looked at two academic networks in which scientists are linked if they have co-authored a scientific paper together. Each scientist is a node in the network and the links arise between scientists who have been co-authors.

Sure enough, the paradox raises its head in this network too. If you are a scientist, your co-authors will have more co-authors than you, as reflected in the network topology. But curiously, they will also have more publications and more citations than you too.

Eorn and Jo call this the “generalized friendship paradox” and go on to derive the mathematical conditions in which it occurs. They say that when a paradox arises as a result of the way nodes are connected together, any other properties of these nodes demonstrate the same paradoxical nature, as long as they are correlated in certain way.

As it turns out, number of publications and citations meet this criteria. And so too do wealth and happiness. So the answer is yes: your friends probably are richer and happier than you are.

That has significant implications for the way people perceive themselves given that their friends will always seem happier, wealthier and more popular than they are. And the problem is likely to be worse in networks where this is easier to see. “This might be the reason why active online social networking service users are not happy,” say Eorn and Jo, referring to other research that has found higher levels of unhappiness among social network users.

So if you’re an active Facebook user feeling inadequate and unhappy because your friends seem to be doing better than you are, remember that almost everybody else on the network is in a similar position.

[Via TechnologyReview.com]

Monday, January 13, 2014

Jewish Surnames Explained

PATRONYMICS (son of ...)

In Yiddish or German, "son" would be denoted by "son" or "sohn" or "er." In most Slavic languages, like Polish or Russian, it would be "wich" or "witz."

For example: The son of Mendel took the last name Mendelsohn; the son of Abraham became Abramson or Avromovitch; the son of Menashe became Manishewitz; the son of Itzhak became Itskowitz; the son of Berl took the name Berliner; the son of Kesl took the name Kessler, etc.

MATRONYMICS (daughter of …)

Reflecting the prominence of Jewish women in business, some families made last names out of women's first names: Chaiken — son of Chaikeh; Edelman — husband of Edel; Gittelman — husband of Gitl; Glick or Gluck — may derive from Glickl, a popular woman's name as in the famous "Glickl of Hameln," whose memoirs, written around 1690, are an early example of Yiddish literature.

Gold/Goldman/Gulden may derived from Golda; Malkov from Malke; Perlman — husband of Perl; Rivken — may derive from Rivke; Soronsohn—son of Sarah.


The next most common source of Jewish last names is probably places. Jews used the town or region where they lived, or where their families came from, as their last name. As a result, the Germanic origins of most East European Jews is reflected in their names.

For example, Asch is an acronym for the towns of Aisenshtadt or Altshul orAmshterdam. Other place-based Jewish names include: Auerbach/Orbach; Bacharach; Berger (generic for townsman); Berg(man), meaning from a hilly place; Bayer — from Bavaria; Bamberger; Berliner, Berlinsky — from Berlin; Bloch (foreigner); Brandeis; Breslau; Brodsky; Brody; Danziger; Deutch/Deutscher — German; Dorf(man), meaning villager; Eisenberg; Epstein; Florsheim; Frankel — from the Franconia region of Germany; Frankfurter; Ginsberg; Gordon — from Grodno, Lithuania or from the Russian word gorodin, for townsman; Greenberg; Halperin—from Helbronn, Germany; Hammerstein; Heller — from Halle, Germany; Hollander — not from Holland, but from a town in Lithuania settled by the Dutch; Horowitz, Hurwich, Gurevitch — from Horovice in Bohemia; Koenigsberg; Krakauer — from Cracow, Poland; Landau; Lipsky — from Leipzig, Germany; Litwak — from Lithuania; Minsky — from Minsk, Belarus; Mintz—from Mainz, Germany; Oppenheimer; Ostreicher — from Austria; Pinsky — from Pinsk, Belarus; Posner — from Posen, Germany; Prager — from Prague; Rappoport — from Porto, Italy; Rothenberg — from the town of the red fortress in Germany; Shapiro — from Speyer, Germany; Schlesinger — from Silesia, Germany; Steinberg; Unger — from Hungary; Vilner — from Vilna, Poland/Lithuania; Wallach—from Bloch, derived from the Polish word for foreigner; Warshauer/Warshavsky — from Warsaw; Wiener — from Vienna; Weinberg.



Ackerman — plowman; Baker/Boker — baker; Blecher — tinsmith; Fleisher/Fleishman/Katzoff/Metger — butcher; Cooperman — coppersmith; Drucker — printer; Einstein — mason; Farber — painter/dyer; Feinstein — jeweler; Fisher — fisherman; Forman — driver/teamster; Garber/Gerber — tanner; Glazer/Glass/Sklar — glazier; Goldstein — goldsmith; Graber — engraver; Kastner — cabinetmaker; Kunstler — artist; Kramer — storekeeper; Miller — miller; Nagler — nailmaker; Plotnick — carpenter; Sandler/Shuster — shoemaker; Schmidt/Kovalsky — blacksmith; Shnitzer — carver; Silverstein — jeweler; Spielman — player (musician?); Stein/Steiner/Stone — jeweler; Wasserman — water carrier.


Garfinkel/Garfunkel — diamond dealer; Holzman/Holtz/Waldman — timber dealer; Kaufman — merchant; Rokeach — spice merchant; Salzman — salt merchant; Seid/Seidman—silk merchant; Tabachnik — snuff seller; Tuchman — cloth merchant; Wachsman — wax dealer; Wechsler/Halphan — money changer; Wollman — wool merchant; Zucker/Zuckerman — sugar merchant.

Related to tailoring

Kravitz/Portnoy/Schneider/Snyder — tailor; Nadelman/Nudelman — also tailor, but from "needle"; Sher/Sherman — also tailor, but from "scissors" or "shears"; Presser/Pressman — clothing presser; Futterman/Kirshner/Kushner/Peltz — furrier; Weber — weaver.


Aptheker — druggist; Feldsher — surgeon; Bader/Teller — barber.

Related to liquor trade

Bronfman/Brand/Brandler/Brenner — distiller; Braverman/Meltzer — brewer; Kabakoff/Krieger/Vigoda — tavern keeper; Geffen — wine merchant; Wine/Weinglass — wine merchant; Weiner — wine maker.


Altshul/Althshuler — associated with the old synagogue in Prague; Cantor/Kazan/Singer/Spivack — cantor or song leader in shul; Feder/Federman/Schreiber — scribe; Haver — from haver (court official); Klausner — rabbi for small congregation; Klopman — calls people to morning prayers by knocking on their window shutters; Lehrer/Malamud/Malmud — teacher; Rabin — rabbi (Rabinowitz—son of rabbi); London — scholar, from the Hebrew lamden(misunderstood by immigration inspectors); Reznick — ritual slaughterer; Richter — judge; Sandek — godfather; Schechter/Schachter/Shuchter etc. — ritual slaughterer from Hebrew schochet; Shofer/Sofer/Schaeffer — scribe; Shulman/Skolnick — sexton; Spector — inspector or supervisor of schools.


Alter/Alterman — old; Dreyfus—three legged, perhaps referring to someone who walked with a cane; Erlich — honest; Frum — devout ; Gottleib — God lover, perhaps referring to someone very devout; Geller/Gelber — yellow, perhaps referring to someone with blond hair; Gross/Grossman — big; Gruber — coarse or vulgar; Feifer/Pfeifer — whistler; Fried/Friedman—happy; Hoch/Hochman/Langer/Langerman — tall; Klein/Kleinman — small; Koenig — king, perhaps someone who was chosen as a “Purim King,” in reality a poor wretch; Krauss — curly, as in curly hair; Kurtz/Kurtzman — short; Reich/Reichman — rich; Reisser — giant; Roth/Rothman — red head; Roth/Rothbard — red beard; Shein/Schoen/Schoenman — pretty, handsome; Schwartz/Shwartzman/Charney — black hair or dark complexion; Scharf/Scharfman — sharp, i.e intelligent; Stark — strong, from the Yiddish shtark ; Springer — lively person, from the Yiddish springen for jump.


These were sometimes foisted on Jews who discarded them as soon as possible, but a few may remain:

Billig — cheap; Gans — goose; Indyk — turkey; Grob — rough/crude; Kalb — cow.


It is common among all peoples to take last names from the animal kingdom. Baer/Berman/Beerman/Berkowitz/Beronson — bear; Adler — eagle (may derive from reference to an eagle in Psalm 103:5); Einhorn — unicorn; Falk/Sokol/Sokolovksy — falcon; Fink — finch; Fuchs/Liss — fox; Gelfand/Helfand — camel (technically means elephant but was used for camel too); Hecht—pike; Hirschhorn — deer antlers; Karp — carp; Loeb — lion; Ochs— ox; Strauss — ostrich (or bouquet of flowers); Wachtel — quail.


Some Jews either held on to or adopted traditional Jewish names from the Bible and Talmud. The big two are Cohen (Cohn, Kohn, Kahan, Kahn, Kaplan) and Levi (Levy, Levine, Levinsky, Levitan, Levenson, Levitt, Lewin, Lewinsky, Lewinson). Others include: Aaron — Aronson, Aronoff; Asher; Benjamin; David — Davis, Davies; Ephraim — Fishl; Emanuel — Mendel; Isaac — Isaacs, Isaacson/Eisner; Jacob — Jacobs, Jacobson, Jacoby; Judah — Idelsohn, Udell,Yudelson; Mayer/Meyer; Menachem — Mann, Mendel; Reuben — Rubin; Samuel — Samuels, Zangwill; Simon — Schimmel; Solomon — Zalman.


Names based on Hebrew acronyms include: Baron — bar aron (son of Aaron); Beck —bene kedoshim (descendant of martyrs); Getz — gabbai tsedek (righteous synagogue official); Katz — kohen tsedek (righteous priest); Metz — moreh tsedek (teacher of righteousness); Sachs, Saks — zera kodesh shemo (his name descends from martyrs); Segal — se gan levia (second-rank Levite).


Lieb means "lion" in Yiddish. It is the root of many Ashkenazic last names, including Liebowitz, Lefkowitz, Lebush, and Leon. It is the Yiddish translation of the Hebrew word for lion — aryeh. The lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah.

Hirsch means "deer" or "stag" in Yiddish. It is the root of many Ashkenazic last names, including Hirschfeld, Hirschbein/Hershkowitz (son of Hirsch), Hertz/Herzl, Cerf, Hart, and Hartman. It is the Yiddish translation of the Hebrew word for gazelle:tsvi. The gazelle was the symbol of the tribe of Naphtali.

Taub means "dove" in Yiddish. It is the root of the Ashkenazic last name Tauber. The symbol of the dove is associated with the prophet Jonah.

Wolf is the root of the Ashkenazic last names Wolfson, Wouk, and Volkovich. The wolf was the symbol of the tribe of Benjamin.

Eckstein — Yiddish for cornerstone, derived from Psalm 118:22.

Good(man) — Yiddish translation of the Hebrew word for "good": tuviah.

Margolin — Hebrew for "pearl."


When Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were required to assume last names, some chose the nicest ones they could think of and may have been charged a registration fee by the authorities. According to the YIVO Encyclopedia, "The resulting names often are associated with nature and beauty. It is very plausible that the choices were influenced by the general romantic tendencies of German culture at that time." These names include: Applebaum — apple tree; Birnbaum — pear tree; Buchsbaum — box tree; Kestenbaum — chestnut tree; Kirschenbaum — cherry tree; Mandelbaum — almond tree; Nussbaum — nut tree; Tannenbaum — fir tree; Teitelbaum — palm tree.

Other names, chosen or purchased, were combinations with these roots:Blumen (flower), Fein (fine), Gold, Green, Lowen (lion), Rosen (rose), Schoen/Schein (pretty) — combined with berg (hill or mountain), thal (valley), bloom (flower), zweig (wreath), blatt (leaf), vald or wald (woods), feld (field).

Miscellaneous other names included Diamond; Glick/Gluck — luck; Hoffman — hopeful; Fried/Friedman — happiness; Lieber/Lieberman — lover.

Jewish family names from non-Jewish languages included: Sender/Saunders — from Alexander; Kagan — descended from the Khazars, a Turkic-speaking people from Central Asia; Kelman/Kalman — from the Greek name Kalonymous, the Greek translation of the Hebrew shem tov (good name), popular among Jews in medieval France and Italy; Marcus/Marx — from Latin, referring to the pagan god Mars.

Finally, there may have been Jewish names changed or shortened by immigration inspectors (though this is disputed) or by immigrants themselves (or their descendants) to sound more American, which is why "Sean Ferguson" was a Jew.

[Via Slate.com]

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Breathalyzer Not to Calculate Very High Blood-Alcohol Content

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- You know your blood-alcohol content is too high when a Breathalyzer can't calculate it.

Iowa City police said that's what happened early Friday morning when they gave a breath test to an Iowa City man that initially read .467 percent before reading "HI."

Officers were called to 2105 J St., the home of 28-year-old Levi B. Carter, for a report of a man who drove off the road and hit a street sign. Police spoke with a passenger in Carter's vehicle who said they heard Carter slurring his speech and believed him to be drunk. The passenger also told police Carter was driving 55 mph on First Avenue - a 25 mph zone - before crashing his car.

Police said Carter was talking to people in his basement who were not there, smelled strongly of alcohol and could barely stand without holding himself up. Carter allegedly told police he drank two Bud Lights and admitting to driving home. Carter failed an eye test and was too drunk to complete any other field sobriety tests.

The .467 percent reading came on a weak test before the testing instrument simply read "HI," police said.

Carter was arrested for drunken driving.

[Via kcrg.com]

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sexting Acronyms from 1930s

Sexting didn’t start with smartphones.
Abbreviating conversational phrases with acronyms isn’t unique to this decade or even this millennium. Friends and lovers exchanged hand-written letters with truncated sayings—both sweet and pornographic—as far back as Biblical times. 
And while many early acronyms were used to save time, others were codes, meant to only be decipherable to the recipient. This was especially rampant in the run-up to and during World War II, when troops wanted to get a rise out of their sweethearts back home. They developed their own cryptic acronyms, many of which were sexually graphic, and scrawled them on the back of love letter envelopes.
1. FRANCE: Friendship Remains And Never Can End
2. ITALY: I Trust And Love You
3. HOLLAND: Hope Our Love Lasts And Never Dies
4. SWALK: Sealed With A Loving Kiss
5. MALAYA: My Ardent Lips Await Your Arrival
6. EGYPT: Eager to Grab Your Pretty Tits
7. BURMA: Be Undressed/Upstairs Ready My Angel
8. NORWICH: (k)Nickers Off Ready When I Come Home
9. ENGLAND: Every Naked Girl Loves A Naked Dick
10. VENICE: Very Excited Now I Caress Everywhere
11. CHINA: Come Home I’m Naked Already
[Via MentalFloss.com]

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Is Bugs Bunny a Jew?

Bugs Bunny, the world’s most famous rabbit, is Jewish, a renowned British cinematic historian claims.

Revealing his findings at a lecture held recently at Britain’s University of Warwick, Israeli daily newspaper Ma'ariv reported the film expert David Yehuda Stern claimed the cartoon character exhibits tell-tale Jewish traits: He lives in a Jewish neighborhood, has a distinctly New York/Jewish accent and uses witty repartee to side-step all attempts to eliminate him.

Stern, who studied thousands of animated shorts featuring the rabbit, delved deep and found an episode in which Bugs Bunny's early life in a New York neighborhood is portrayed.

Stern revealed that the rabbit's childhood panorama is alive with an array of Eastern European Jewish types, including ultra-Orthodox Jews. Lending credence to the theory of Jewish inspiration behind Bugs Bunny, Stern noted in his lecture that the both the cartoon's producer and the character's voice actor, Leon Schlesinger and Mel Blanc, were Jews.

[Via Haaretz.com]

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Japanese Workers Die from Asbestos at US Military Bases

TOKYO - A total of 28 Japanese workers were officially recognised as having become sick from inhaling asbestos while laboring at US military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, with 21 of them already dead, the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry data showed Tuesday.
The 28 represent more than half the 48 people recognised with asbestos injuries in the entire prefecture. It is feared that there could be more asbestos victims among those who worked at the bases. A former worker said Japanese workers were not provided adequate protective gear or informed of the dangers of asbestos.
Of the 28 workers, 19 were officially recognised in the period through fiscal 2012 as having suffered work-related asbestos hazards. Fourteen suffered lung cancer, with nine of them already dead, two suffered mesothelioma, and three suffered asbestosis, with all of the three already dead.
There were nine other people certified as asbestos victims in accordance with a relief act for people ineligible for workers' compensation because of the statute of limitation. In some cases, asbestos-related diseases do not surface until after several decades. Eight suffered lung cancer and one suffered asbestosis, and all of them are already dead, according to the data.
Workers' compensation certification standards for asbestos were established in 1978 and the relief act came into force in 2006.
Those who were officially recognized as asbestos victims were involved in works such as demolition of buildings containing asbestos, spraying of asbestos, waste disposal and collection, and repair and manufacturing of machines.
Asbestos is easily dispersed and those who have inhaled the material can develop diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis, a type of lung disease.
Apparent lax handling of asbestos has drawn attention in Okinawa. Asbestos was found in former US military sites returned to Japan, and Japanese workers renovated military bases without being notified of the existence of asbestos.
Eizo Yonaha, a former worker who represents the Okinawa chapter of the All Japan Garrison Forces Labour Union, said Japanese workers were forced to work with asbestos with almost no protective equipment such as masks until the early 1990s.
"There was also a time when supervising U.S. military personnel never tried to enter the worksite. I believe they knew about the danger. The recognised cases are probably the tip of the iceberg. The central and prefectural governments need to step up efforts to identify more victims," Mr Yonaha said.
[Via BangkokPost.com]

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

10 Things Not to Buy in 2014

1. Cable TV
Cable television’s heyday is over. Subscribers have been declining since 2004, and analysts say there’s no end in sight. Roughly 54.8 million households currently pay for cable TV, down 3.3% from 2012 and down 17.6% from a decade prior, according to research firm IHS. Cable companies are expected to shed roughly 1.3 million subscribers in 2014.
The decline is due in part to so-called cord-cutters: consumers who are canceling cable and transitioning to lower-cost services, such as Hulu and Netflix, which provide much of the same programming at a fraction of the price. Using an Internet connection, consumers can stream many cable shows, news programs and sports games, as well as movies, directly to their TVs. Some channels’ websites also provide viewers access to their shows.
These services are mostly beneficial for people who do not mind watching shows after they’ve aired and are willing to part with most live programming.

2. Landline service
Fewer households are holding on to their landlines. Two in every five U.S. homes had wireless phones only during the first half of the year, up slightly from the first half of 2012, according to data released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number has been rising over the past decade: Roughly 90 million adults, or 38% of the population, are now wireless-only, versus 21% during the first half of 2009 — and fewer than 3% during the first half of 2003.
Ditching the landline allows households to shed a monthly bill — but it doesn’t mean they’re restricted to their cellphones. There’s also Skype, which is free and allows video chatting via smartphones and other devices with friends and family anywhere in the world at no cost. FaceTime video can also be free with a Wi-Fi connection. Separately, magicJack Plus provides phone service when it’s connected to a USB port, computer, or regular phone router; it costs $49.95 in total for the device and for the first six months, after which service costs range from about $1.67 to $2.50 per month. (In contrast, most traditional telephone providers charge at least $10 a month.)
To be sure, these services require an Internet connection. Consumers who want the security of a landline — many Americans were without phone service after Hurricane Sandy disrupted cellphone and Internet service in some areas — may want to consider holding on to their home phone.

3. GPS devices
Up until a few years ago, personal navigation systems were considered a must-have for most drivers since they drastically reduced the chances of getting lost. But the tides have turned and demand for these gadgets is plummeting: 7.5 million personal navigation devices sold in 2012 in North America, down from a peak of 18 million in 2009, according to the latest data from Berg Insight, a Swedish research company.
The need for this service still exists, but consumers can get it for a lot cheaper. Rather than paying $70 to $300 for a new GPS device, drivers can use map apps to get around. They’re available on most smartphones or free to download.
Separately, many new cars come with built-in navigation systems: 49% of 2013 model-year vehicles have a standard navigation system (in at least one of their styles), up from 33% of 2010 models.

4. DVD and Blu-ray players
DVD sales and rentals are down, so it’s not a surprise that fewer consumers are buying DVD players. Sales of DVD and Blu-ray players totaled 21.3 million in 2012, down 20.1% from a year prior and down 24.8% from 2010, according to research firm SNL Kagan.
Instead, experts say, consumers are increasingly streaming movies from Internet-based subscription services like Hulu and Netflix. Gamers can also use their consoles, such as the Xbox One and PlayStation4, to watch DVDs.

5. Hotel rooms
As more travelers book vacations, demand for hotels is rising and so are room rates. The daily rate at U.S. hotels averages $110.59 this year, up 4.1% from 2012 and up 12.6% from 2010, according to professional-services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The average price is expected to rise to $115.68 in 2014.
There’s another, cheaper alternative: Travelers can reserve apartments or homes in their destinations at a lower price with more space to boot. Several services, such as Airbnb and Vacation Rentals by Owner, allow consumers to choose from an assortment of homes to stay in. Some owners also offer free airport pickups and drop-offs.
It can also be more helpful and cost-effective for large groups that are traveling together (you can book a large home with many bedrooms) or families with young children who require privacy and can cook in the home rather than paying to eat out. The downside, however, is less security than what hotels offer.

6. Two-year phone contracts
Consumers are encountering more setbacks than benefits with two-year cellphone contracts. There’s no way to change phones within this period of time without incurring a fee. And there’s the fine print many of these plans come with that result in consumers paying more than the starting monthly price they’re quoted in the store.
Mobile users have several alternatives. They can opt for no-contract providers that sell the phones at full price (that’s more than the upfront price they’ll pay for a phone with a contract) but monthly payments are much lower (often half). They’re available through MetroPCS as well as big-box retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart. Most regular wireless providers also offer this option.

7. Desktop and laptop computers
There’s little reason to buy a desktop or laptop computer anymore. Tablets perform the same functions — playing music, sharing photos, Web surfing — that most consumers use PCs for and they’re made to use while on the go. They can also be a lot cheaper. For instance, Apple’s iMac’s start at $1,299 and MacBook laptops start at $999 while iPads start at $299.
Of course, ditching desktop PCs isn’t for everyone: Graphic designers and traders, for instance, who require large screens will find it hard to part with traditional computers.
But data shows that PCs are starting to fall out of favor: Worldwide shipments fell 4% in 2012 from a year prior — to the lowest level since 2009, according to the latest data from IDC, an information-technology research firm.

8. Extra legroom in economy
Over the past few years it’s become common practice for airlines, including American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, to charge many passengers extra — up to an additional $180 — for roomier seats (read: extra three to six inches of legroom) in coach. These seats are often in the exit rows or first row in economy.
But for a similar payment of $100 to $200, travelers can get upgraded to business class where the seats are much more comfortable and the service is of a higher caliber. These upgrades used to be reserved for airlines’ frequent fliers, but many now give them out to passengers who are willing to pay a bit more when they check in or at the gate.

9. Credit cards with points or miles programs
Card issuers have been ramping up some of their rewards programs in the past few years, but consumers should steer clear of one common promotion: credit cards with rewards programs that are comprised of points or miles.
Many card issuers are devaluing their rewards programs by requiring cardholders to spend more in order to get the same “free award” they could have gotten previously with fewer points. What’s more, many of these cards come with annual fees, ranging from $30 to $75.
Instead, consider a credit card with a “cash-back” program — a rewards program that’s a lot more straightforward: consumers get 1% to 5% cash back per a certain number of dollars they swipe on their card.

10. Digital cameras
Their small size and sleek look made digital “point and shoot” cameras all the rage for years. Now, demand is sunsetting. Roughly 11.5 million are estimated to have sold this year in the U.S., down 44% from 2012, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents consumer technology companies. Sales are expected to drop to just under 8 million next year.
The cameras are suffering from an identity crisis. Consumers who want high-quality photos are opting for the larger, DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras. Others prefer to stick with just one gadget — their smartphone — which takes pictures.
And there’s new competition from cameras intended for the outdoor thrill-seeker, like the GoPro, for people who want photos capturing action (the camera attaches to your body while white water rafting or scuba diving, for instance) rather than stopping to pose for a pic.

[Via MarketWatch.com]

Monday, January 6, 2014

Surprise Inspection in Acapulco Prison

A surprise inspection in a prison in Mexico has revealed the presence of 19 prostitutes, 100 plasma televisions, two sacks of marijuana, and 100 cockerels for cock fighting.
The discovery in the prison in Acapulco came as police prepared to transfer the inmates to a maximum security jail.
The officers also found six female inmates living in the male section of the prison and two peacocks.
Mexican jails are notorious for overcrowding, corruption and rioting.
It is not the first time luxury items like TVs and weapons have been found in a Mexican jail.
In July, prisoners in a jail in Sonora state were found to be running a lottery to raffle off a luxury cell they'd equipped with a fridge, DVD player and air conditioning.
An inspector from the State Commission for the Defence of Human Rights, Hipolito Lugo Cortes, recently denounced conditions in five prisons in Guerrero state, among them the one in Acapulco.
He said inmates were running affairs at these penitentiaries according to their own laws and customs, with little or no control by prison authorities.
[Via BBC]

Conspiracy to Keep You Fat

At this time of year, a lot of Americans have vowed to develop more healthful habits. Unfortunately, most of those who have made weight loss resolutions will fail. But it won't be entirely their fault.

Americans today live in a food swamp. We are constantly exposed to marketing and advertising designed to keep food on our minds and treats at our fingertips. If you go out to dinner, you will probably be served more food than you need and eat more than you should. At the market, you'll be encouraged to buy unhealthful foods. It's not easy to avoid or ignore all the forces that trigger bad eating habits.

Humans are hard-wired to notice food over other items. Once we perceive food, through sight, smell, hearing, taste or touch, we find ourselves wanting to eat, even if we are already full. This was no doubt a useful adaptation as humans evolved. But today, in a time of plentiful food, such impulses aren't in a person's best interest.

If you find yourself reaching in the refrigerator or grabbing a candy bar at the cash register when you're trying to diet, you will probably blame yourself. But the fault won't be entirely yours. Food manufacturers and marketers are playing with your most basic impulses, trying to trigger behaviors you have a limited capacity to restrain.

The ability to interrupt reflexive responses to food cues depends on many things. First among them is awareness. If you are unaware that your feeling of hunger was deliberately triggered by an advertisement or an expertly placed candy bar at the checkout stand, it will be hard to resist temptation. Similarly, if you're distracted, overwhelmed or fatigued, you're more likely to succumb.

Between 1980 and 2000, obesity rates doubled in the United States. That increase came during a period when the food environment changed dramatically. Manufacturers began to embrace impulse-marketing strategies, buying prominent shelf space for tempting, high-calorie foods and beverages at the end of aisles in supermarkets and at cash registers. Even businesses that did not sell food primarily, such as hardware stores and gas stations, began pushing snacks at the checkout counter. The amount of food advertising and the number of convenience stores and vending machines selling junk food mushroomed. Restaurants increased their portion sizes. In short, temptation multiplied dramatically, and a lot of us simply weren't up to the task of resisting it.

A similar situation existed in America 200 years ago with alcohol. It was everywhere, served on the job, in shops, in taverns. It was offered by politicians in political campaigns, and it was pushed with equal fervor to children and adults alike. Although many recognized the harms of alcohol, just telling people not to drink didn't change much — the power of readily available alcohol was too hard to resist, and the consequence was a nation of drunkards.

In the 1830s, America began to experiment with policies and regulations to change the nation's relation to alcohol, banning sales to children, for example, and restricting drinking on the job. The policies served to decrease alcohol consumption sharply. Government intervention culminated in 1920 with the nationwide ban on production and sales of alcohol known as Prohibition.

Once we realized that Prohibition went too far, as a nation, we settled on more reasonable and acceptable policies that helped many people moderate their intake of alcohol. Standardized portion sizes were adopted, allowing people to gauge their risk of becoming inebriated. Restrictions on where and under what conditions alcohol can be served were instituted.

Alcohol policies differ from state to state, but researchers have found that more restrictions on sales are associated with lower rates of alcohol-related morbidity and mortality. Most Americans have embraced laws that include limiting the number of alcohol outlets, prohibiting sales to youths under 21 and restricting the hours during which alcohol can be sold. Why? Because most people feel it's appropriate for the government to play a role in trying to mitigate the harm associated with drinking too much.

Today, the harms associated with overeating in America are at least as great as the harms from drinking. Just as we needed policies to protect people from having alcohol thrust in their faces everywhere they went, we need to develop and implement policies that protect people from food cues and triggers designed to make them eat when they're not hungry and over-consume. It's time to drain the food swamp.

[Via LA Times]

Sochi 2014: Winter Olympics at $51 Billion

The new road and railway to Krasnaya Polyana, the mountain resort that will host the ski and snowboard events of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, start in Adler, a beachfront town that has become a boisterous tangle of highway interchanges and construction sites. A newly opened, glass-fronted train station—the largest in Russia—sits like a sparkling prism between the green and brown peaks of the Caucasus Mountains and the lapping waves of the Black Sea.
The state agency that oversaw the infrastructure project is Russian Railways, or RZhD. The agency’s head is Vladimir Yakunin, a close associate of Vladimir Putin. It oversees 52,000 miles of rail track, the third-largest network in the world, and employs nearly a million people. The 31-mile Adler-to-Krasnaya Polyana project is among its most ambitious, reminiscent in its man-against-nature quality of the Baikal-Amur Mainline railway built by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and ’80s across the remote taiga forests of the Russian Far East. Now, as then, grandeur and showmanship are as important as the finished project. Putin sees the Sochi Games as a capstone to the economic and geopolitical revival of Russia, which he has effectively ruled for 14 years. The route connects the arenas and Olympic Village along the Black Sea with the mountains above. Andrey Dudnik, the deputy head of Sochi construction for RZhD, is proud of his company’s accomplishment, given the region’s difficult terrain and the rushed time frame for finishing construction. “Few people believed,” he says. “But we did it.”
On a cloudless, 70-degree day this fall, I boarded a train—newly built by Siemens and smelling of fresh upholstery—in Adler. The train dashed along the riverbank on a curving track supported by cement columns dotting the shore. We passed into a long tunnel, lit with soft yellow light. The engineering work was so challenging, Dudnik boasts, that in 2011 RZhD was named Major Tunnelling Project of the Year at an international awards ceremony in Hong Kong.
Among Russians, the project is famous for a different reason: its price tag. At $8.7 billion, it eclipses the total cost for preparations for the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. A report by opposition politicians Boris Nemtsov and Leonid Martynyuk calculated that the Russian state spent three times more on the road than NASA did for the delivery and operation of a new generation of Mars rovers. An article in Russian Esquire estimated that for the sum the government spent on the road, it could have been paved entirely with a centimeter-thick coating of beluga caviar.
The train glided to a stop at the Krasnaya Polyana station. The floors were buffed to the shimmery gloss of a desert mirage. The air up here was cooler; snow mottled the mountaintops ahead. Down the hillside stood a giant banner: “Sochi is preparing for Olympic records!”
At $51 billion, the Sochi Games are the costliest ever, surpassing the $40 billion spent by China on the 2008 Summer Olympics. The suicide bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd on Dec. 29 and 30 have heightened fears of terrorism and given a renewed focus to security concerns as well as questions of cost. How the Sochi Games grew so expensive is a tale of Putin-era Russia in microcosm: a story of ambition, hubris, and greed leading to fabulous extravagance on the shores of the Black Sea. And extravagances, in Russia especially, come at a price.
[Via Businessweek.com]