I came across this today; a discussion of current and historical corporate bond rates over the past 90 years. The article compares the rate of return on Aaa rated bonds to the rate of return on Baa rated bonds. When lenders are very adverse to taking risks (such as the Great Depression, for instance), the RoR on Aaa and Baa rated bonds are quite disparate. In good economic times the rates are fairly similar. In recent months, the RoR on these two types of bonds has become increasinly disparate. So much so, that the current rate spread of 3% is the worst it's been since the 1930's. We still have a ways to go until the spread matches the 5% rate spread at the height of the Great Depression, but that is one nasty steep slope we are currently climbing. If that slope continues, it won't take long...
9:59:51 PM comment 
Several years ago, on a whim, I ordered a couple of mugs from Shutterfly for my husband; I went online and downloaded a black and white picture of Nixon, and a picture of Kissinger, and those were the pictures I had printed onto the mugs. I have no idea what inspired me to do this. Although it is true that I have always considered Watergate and the Nixon adminstration humorous, but I can't exactly define why that is.
Anyway, my husband was very happy when he opened that gift. I mean really, really happy. He said it was the best gift he had gotten ever, bar none.
He uses the mugs every day at work, and about once every couple of weeks he gets enthusiastic compliments on them. Apparently other people find Nixon amusing too.
My husband has gone through two Kissinger mugs so far. The first got misplaced (or stolen, my husband suspects, although I think that is kind of an odd thing to steal). The second got broken, and I am unfortunately to blame for that (I was visiting his office and reached for a book and accidently knocked Kissinger off the desk). So Nixon has been going it alone for quite some time now.
So, for this Christmas I have ordered another Kissinger mug. I also ordered a G.Gordon Liddy mug too while I was at it. I recall seeing a picture once of Liddy smiling for the camera while holding up a rifle by his side. Sadly, I couldn't locate that picture online, so the mug has a picture of Liddy standing in front of a big American Flag instead.
Maybe next year I will get my husband Haldeman and Erlichman mugs, so he can round out his collection.
On a whim today I searched for Watergate/Nixon action figures, starting with Nixon. I found a Nixon action figure online at Amazon, but, sadly, no Kissinger, Liddy, Haldeman, or Erlichman action figures are to be found. The Nixon figure doesn't look a whole lot like Nixon, but it does make the double Victory sign, and has a voice chip.
I think the world needs a complete set of Watergate/Nixon administration action figures, complete with accessories like filing cabinets they can riffle through. But maybe it would be just me who would buy them...
Is this true? And is there pay equity in McCain's senate office?
Being the data-phile that I am, I looked up the senate staff salaries for McCain and Obama.
If you look at people in each data table who worked the full fiscal period (not just a portion) we have
N 25 20
median salary $18000 $16600
mean salary $23000 $19200 diff(women-men)=+0.8 standard deviations
N 27 21
median salary $17500 $22100
mean salary $21700 $27900 diff(women-men)= -1.6 standard deviations
The difference between the male and female salaries in the Obama office translates to a probability of only 6% that this disparity occured just by random chance under the null hypothesis of gender equity. The Obama campaign contends that the disparities are simply due to there being more senior (and thus higher paid) male staffers than senior female staffers. But if you take a look at the data table, you will see that many of the job titles make it difficult to discern the seniority levels. Also, under the assumption of gender equity (and the assumption that McCain achieves it), why would Obama employ fractionally far fewer senior female staffers than McCain?
(As an aside, the pay for senate staffers sucks.)
Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go crunch the numbers and see how my state senators measure up as far as pay equity in their offices goes (and if they don't measure up, they can expect an angry letter from at least one consituent...)
I checked the staff salaries of the two senators of my state and the Democrat (Bayh) had no statistically significant pay inequity among staffers, while the Republican (Lugar) had a gender discrepancy of -1.5 standard deviations (ie; about the same as Obama).
I'll be sending Lugar a letter later today.
I checked Biden while I was at it, and found that he has no statistically significant pay inequity among staffers.
It is worth noting that all 5 of the senators I've looked at employ equal numbers of males and females (within the statistical error).
One thing that completely mystifies me in the US is the whole issue of voter registration (and apparent fraud). Why is this issue of voter registration so freaking complicated in the US???
In Canada, during my years as a voter there, I was also a student and thus moved around fairly frequently so it was hard for the government to keep track of all my moves. But this wasn't a problem, because to vote, all I had to do was show up at my local polling place (which was prominently advertised at many different places immediately prior to the election), bringing a piece of ID and a utility bill to show I was actually resident in that district. It was as simple as that. Obviously, dead people can't show up at a polling place with ID and a utility bill, and neither can Mickey Mouse.
If I had not been so itinerant, I would have gotten my voter registration card in the mail via a government organization called Elections Canada, which develops the voter registration rolls from info from things like Provincial and Territorial motor vehicle registrars, Canada Revenue Agency (think IRS) , Citizenship and Immigration Canada , and Provincial and Territorial vital statistics registrars.
It should be pretty easy to institute something similar in the US. One would think, anyway.
This is the story of our Mothers and Grandmothers who lived only 90 years ago.
Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
The women were innocent and defenceless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.
And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'
They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.
They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.
Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote.
For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.
When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.
So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because-why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?
Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new movie 'Iron Jawed Angels.' It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.
All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient.
My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women's history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was--with herself. 'One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,' she said. What would those women think of the way I use, or don't use, my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.' The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her 'all over again.'
HBO released the movie on video and DVD . I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.
It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy.
The doctor admonished the men: 'Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.'
Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know.
We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote democratic, republican or independent party - remember to vote.
For my own edification, today I downloaded past Dow Jones Industrial Average data from 1928 to present, and took a look-see just to see what the past trends were, and how bad things right now really are.
I was looking at the data, and noticed curious four year cycles in the market that appeared to be tied to presidential elections. The pattern becomes especially clear if you look at the percentage change in the DJIA from what it was two years previously. Below is a plot of that versus time, with the superimposed vertical bars showing the year that a new president started his term. Note that for every single president since the 1950's, the market tanked within the first year or so of him first taking office, followed by a rally that peaked usually a couple of years before his term ended (the only exception is start of Johnson's term who, when he started, wasn't elected). In fact, the beginning of each of the terms transects rather well the distance between the peak of the rally and the valley of the downturn.
For presidents who served two 4 year terms, there even appears to be economic downturn during their re-election year (the notable exception being Clinton).
It would appear that the American economy does not like the uncertainty that elections and new presidents bring, and the economic downturn centered around the election of new presidents is very predictable. The fact that the economy doesn't recover until a year or so into the start of a new presidential term is bad news because it means that we are very likely going to see the DJIA drop significantly more over the next 12 to 18 months, in a manner only rivaled by the Great Depression.
Update: I just poked around on the internet, and apparently I'm not the first to notice this. See here for instance. Makes me wonder why the droves of economic pundits on the news programs lately don't mention this...
We've lived in America for 11 years now, and this is the third presidential election we've witnessed while here. For the first time, just this past month, we have seen ads on the television encouraging people to get registered to vote. Mr.Absinthe commented "its about time".
The lack of interest in voting in the US is at times palpable. USA ranks 139th out of 172 world countries in the percentage of the eligble population who vote (48.3%). In fact, the US has the lowest voting turn out of any first world country. This lack of interest in voting surprised me when I moved here, because in Canada I voted in every single election as soon as I was old enough to vote, and pretty much all of my friends did too. I remember one year in college a big group of us going to the polls, then out to dinner afterwards. And we didn't go in a group because we were going to support en-masse a particular candidate (in fact, we didn't even talk about who we were going to vote for).
I'll admit that I am somewhat off-the-norm in that I exercise my right to vote whenever I can, but my point is that someone like me stands out more in the US than in Canada. The voter turn out in Canada is 68.4%.
Thankfully, news reports indicate that Americans are registering to vote in record numbers this election. Most are young people, which appears to be scaring the hell out of a faction of the established voting population who appear to be quite happy with the status quo of past voter demographics, thank you very much. I've seen some sound bites on the news with people from this faction saying that they are disgusted that young people are registering to vote in such numbers because, apparently, these young people can't possibly make informed voting decisions.
In the Comics section of our Sunday Newspaper, there is a one-panel strip called "Mallard Fillmore". I never find it funny, and barely give it a second glance. However, today I did a double take when I saw it depicted two men digging up artifacts. One says to the other It's a tablet from a forgotten civilization called "America"...whose imminent downfall apparently became obvious when it started to run television commercials...begging its citizens to vote.
Suggesting that widespread voting will be the downfall of a nation is so incredibly, unbelievably f*cked up.
There is a Canadian political comedy show called "This Hour Has 22 Minutes". In 1998, just prior to a Canadian federal election, they produced this music video, featuring music of the Canadian rock band Trooper.
Who stars in the video? Almost every single member of the Canadian Parliament, including the then-Prime-Minister, Jean Chretien. And we are talking about (in many cases) some extremely staid and very uptight people. Indeed, the fact that the most uptight of these people were some of the most exhuberant participants in the video is one of the most fantastic things about it. I realize that Americans watching the clip will recognize few (if any) of the people, but trust me, this video is equivalent to having every single US Senator and Congressperson (and the President) out on the Washington DC mall lip synching to Raise a Little Hell while mugging for the camera and holding signs urging people to vote. There is something about this video that makes me very proud to be a citizen of the country that produced it.
It appears America is changing, and maybe the time will come when we will actually see such a video in America.
Pier Oddone, the current director of Fermilab, recently commented on the APS diversity site review of Fermilab that occured last May. See his comments here, in the right hand column.
Some highlights of the APS report:
Fermilab shows little progress in recent years in the percentages of women and members of minorities in some key areas of laboratory staff.
While many parts of the laboratory have created welcoming and supportive environments for all, others are perceived as unwelcoming and unsupportive of women and members of minorities.
Fermilab users are often not aware of lab policies on diversity and workplace discrimination and donít know if the policies apply to them. When they do run into problems or have questions about discriminatory treatment at work, many are not sure where to turn.
After the negative aftermath of the Nature article, I don't do statistical studies of gender equity issues in the sciences anymore (way too much of a downer in so many ways). However, I was very pleasantly surprised to see the new procedures Fermilab says it is now implementing to combat gender inequities at the lab (see Oddone's article for details)...I had no idea that my studies would eventually have a positive impact like that.
I guess my legacy in particle physics is not my physics research (despite the fact I was a good physicist, with an excellent research record), but instead something that will touch the working lives of many physicists for years to come.
I've been closely following the $700b proposed bank bailout deal. I was very happy not to see it pass in the House yesterday. Why? because I don't believe that Main Street America will be affected quite as extremely as the doom and gloom sayers in Washington and the news media say we will be if we don't hand a $700b gift to Wall Street.
What if credit does dry up, as the doom sayers say it will? The American economy has become predicated on credit, and lots of it. Go back 50 years, and this was not the case. People normally paid cash for their cars, and their mortgages were for a much smaller fraction of the worth of their house. People didn't have credit cards, and they got along just fine. In addition, Robert Putnam, professor of political science at Harvard, established links between social capital and economic inequality. On the relationship of inequality and involvement in community he says:
Community and equality are mutually reinforcing. Social capital and economic inequality moved in tandem through most of the twentieth century. In terms of the distribution of wealth and income, America in the 1950s and 1960s was more egalitarian than it had been in more than a century. [T]hose same decades were also the high point of social connectedness and civic engagement. Record highs in equality and social capital coincided. Conversely, the last third of the twentieth century was a time of growing inequality and eroding social capital. The timing of the two trends is striking: somewhere around 1965-70 America reversed course and started becoming both less just economically and less well connected socially and politically.
Today the distribution of wealth is very uneven in America. In 2004, the people who had the top 20% of household incomes in America owned 85% of the wealth. The people with the lowest 40% household incomes owned owned much less than 1%. The people in the 40th to 60th percentile (ie; the middle class), owned less than 4% of the wealth. And, as you can see in the graph below, the upper echelons have had a much steeper increase in their wealth over the past decade compared to the middle class.
The wealth of the middle class consists mostly of home equity. The wealth of the upper class consists mostly of stocks. As we all know, the stock market closed yesterday with the largest daily net loss in history (around 8%). The news media stated last night that this drop "cost taxpayers" over a trillion dollars, and thus we were supposedly stupid not to support the $700b bailout plan because the bailout would have "ultimately cost less to taxpayers". Well, the "taxpayers" who lost over a trillion dollars yesterday were overwhelmingly not you or your neighbors. They were the ultra rich, who could well afford an adjustment in their total wealth.
I am not naive, and I understand that the country may well be thrown into a deep recession if a bail out does not occur. But frankly, I think it would ultimately be a very good thing for this country to return to the economic principles of the 1950's. People like me, who never use credit, except to buy a house (and even then only to buy a house that cost around 50% of what we technically could have gotten a loan for), are relatively immune to credit crunches (I'm not immune to the bottom falling out of the American dollar, but that is another story). If Americans are forced to get used to not relying on credit, the distribution of wealth might very well become more equitable in the end.
My oldest daughter spent the weekend working away in the cellar at the workbench my husband made for her a couple of years ago. She came up this evening proudly holding a boat she had carved. I need to put up a picture of it here...it looks fantastic. The things that she is able to make astonish me.
She said she wanted to put it into the river that runs through our town so that it might eventually make it into the Mississippi and in the Gulf of Mexico. This poignantly reminded me of the film that all Canadians my age watched at least once in school....it is called Paddle to the Sea and it was produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1966, and was then shown to school kids every year for at least the next 20 years (they probably still are showing it every year, for all I know). The NFBC are the same great folks who produced The Sweater, The Big Snit, George and Rosemary, and The Cat Came Back...it is cool that the NFBC puts these short films online to view for free, and it is even cooler that the NFBC showed these short films in lieu of movie previews in movie theatres in Canada when they first came out.
I found Paddle to the Sea on Youtube, and I just finished watching it with my daughter, who was enthralled. You can find it too on YouTube in Part I, Part II, and Part III. Enjoy this little slice of Canadiana (and if you watch no other links of the ones I've given above, at least watch The Big Snit).
As a reminder of why, take a look at my Hallowe'en 2006 costume, and here is also an excerpt from my science scout post (as an aside, how many science scout badges have you earned?):
The "I may look like a scientist, but I'm actually also a pirate" badge. Drinks rum. Into pillaging and stuff. Soft spot for evolutionary biology. Damn straight...check out the Hallowe'en 2006 post if you don't believe me. How many people do you know who actually have a complete elaborate pirate costume hanging in their closet? Plus, last year I had a research fellowship in computational evolutionary biology. And don't even get me started on the subject of rum drinking and pillaging...it was like this badge was *made* for me.
I was listening to the news this morning, and there was a report of a local woman who was the victim of a home invasion. The woman got the make and partial license plate number of the vehicle the perpetrators drove off in. The news report gave the vehicle and partial license information, and asked the public for help in identifying the perps.
This is not the first time I've been astonished that the police don't have some kind of unified relational interstate database that allows them to search for vehicle make (or even type, like 2-door sedan, suv, etc), and partial license plate number (and/or the color of the car, and/or the race and age of the owner). With an iota of forethought, this would be utterly trivial to implement. But no, apparently it is considered cutting edge technology; last year a patent was filed describing just such a database.
I've come across a few people who firmly believe the government tracks too much of the information associated with their daily lives. I doubt this is true, but even if it is, it is quite apparent the government is completely unable to organize the information in any meaningful or useful manner. It is like the IQ of the bureaucrats who design these systems is dominated by the person with the lowest IQ of the group.
In a few days I am leaving on a two week trip to Vancouver Island, the place where I spent most of my childhood. It has been surprising to me how many of our American friends have no idea where Vancouver Island is...even many of our highly educated friends give me a blank look when I say I'm going to Vancouver Island for vacation, and I get an even blanker look when I ask them if they've noticed on their globe the huge island off the west coast of Canada, just north of Seattle.
I've only been to the island twice in the past decade, and the last time was 6 years ago. Every time I go back these days I am somewhat saddened to see how much it has changed there from the unique way it was when I was growing up. It is becoming much more modern and homogenous with the rest of the world. Especially the north end of the island, where I was raised...whenI was in my teens the north end of the island was finally connected to the southern half by a paved road, but previous to that you could only get there via logging road, boat, or sea plane. And the logging roads weren't plowed in the winter, so it was kind of a death wish to travel them when it was snowy. It was also in my early teens that the north end of the island finally got cable TV. Before that you could always get the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) with just an antenna, but for some reason the CBC decided that Vancouver Island classified as "northern Canada", and thus a good chunk of the programming was in Inuit. So you could, in theory, watch television when I was a kid, but what was the point.
So I spent most of my childhood outdoors. We lived in the middle of nowhere, with our property 1/8 of a mile to the north and south of two streams, and a 1/4 mile from a rocky beach on the north-eastern side of the island. Immediately to the west of us (ie; across the road), the forest started and it didn't end until you got to the west coast of the island (a mountain range and 100 miles further on). There was a path by my house that went west a couple of miles to a small logging road. More on that path and road in a minute.
As a kid I used to go down to the beach all the time between April and October. In fourth grade my father bought me snorkeling gear because I had gotten straight A's in school. I became an accomplished skin diver off of the reef just off the beach, and I could effortlessly hold my breath for more than a minute and a half and dive up to 20 feet down. In fact, my body appears to have permanently adapted to this...when a regular person holds their breath, their pulse rate rises, but when I hold my breath my pulse plummets to 40 beats or less per minute. As a kid I was constantly dragging marine flora and fauna back from the beach for identification using books I got out from the library. I remember once bringing back grape sized jellyfish and putting them on a piece of glass in the sun to see what a dried jellyfish would look like (the answer: to the naked eye, nothing...they completely evaporated).
As a young kid I often mucked about in the two streams near our house. I would also go there to pick salmon berries, huckleberries, or salal.
I was left alone a lot as a young kid. I was raised by my father, and I was what is known today as a latch-key-kid (although back in those days we never locked our doors...it was always a stressful event on the occasions we would go someplace for a few weeks and we would tear the house apart trying to find the house keys). Being left alone a lot meant that I had absolute freedom to do whatever I wanted. And my father didn't much care what I did when I was alone...he knew I could swim like a fish so I was allowed to go swimming by myself as much as I wanted from a very young age.
However, I pushed the "go swimming whenever you want" credo to the limit by taking my bike up the path to the logging road on a frequent basis in the summer time, then biking up the logging road to a major river a few miles away. There I would put on my snorkeling mask, and shoot the rapids in the river, holding my body as straight as an arrow. I thought this was the greatest fun, and I used to do it for hours. My father never knew I did that, not because I tried to hide it from him, but because I never thought it important enough to mention. I look back on it now and I think it is no small wonder I didn't kill myself. Excellent swimmer or not, you can't swim if you've been knocked unconcious by a rock, and I used to often finish the sessions in the rapids with some pretty good bruises to show for my fun.
On the logging roads I would frequently run into black bears. I never had any problems with them, but they used to scare the bejeezus out of me and I would quickly turn my bike around and pedal in the opposite direction as fast as I could thinking the bear must be fast on my heels (it never was). There are no grizzlies on the island, and black bears pretty much leave you alone unless provoked, but I didn't know that when I was a kid. I never saw a cougar on my expeditions, but I would regularly come across cougar scat. And, of course, being Vancouver Island in the middle of nowhere, I used to come across lots of deer. I was scared to death at twighlight in the woods of coming across a sasquatch, the boogy-man of my childhood.
Charming stories of growing up in the woods by the ocean aside, there were more unseemly aspects of my childhood. When I was in the second grade my father (an electrician) took a job rebuilding an elementary school in Port Hardy, at the far northern end of the island. The entire school had burned down except for the gym, and so while the rest of the school was rebuilt the classes all met in the gym for several months. I went to the school during that time, and it was very, very crowded and noisy. Not having a cloakroom, all the kids put their jackets in a big pile every morning. As a result, lice were rampant in the school.
There were many native children in the school. My school bus used to go through the reservation to pick up the native kids, and I recall one blustery winter morning looking at an old man sitting in a chair in a shack staring at the wall. The windows on the shack used to be sheets of plastic stapled up, but the plastic had torn, so the wind was blowing freely through the house. I remember thinking, sitting on my warm bus, that someone should put up new plastic windows for that grandpa.
At school my best friend was a native girl named Naomi. She was really nice. Naomi had raspy cough from the first time I met her. After a few months there was a stretch of several weeks where Naomi wasn't at school. Finally the teacher asked one of the other native kids where Naomi was, and the child replied that Naomi had died of "namonia". Later that day I watched as the teacher set us to a reading task, and then went to Naomi's desk and unceremoniously cleared the contents out into the garbage can.
My observations and experiences in Port Hardy left a deep impression on me. As an adult looking back on it, particularly Naomi's death, I can't believe the callous way native indians were treated. If a white kid were to die of pneumonia either back then or today, mourning that child would be a school-wide event. But a native kid dying of pneumonia at the north end of Vancouver Island back in the 1970's didn't even deserve comment. I hope that aspect of life on the island has changed. But, in a two week vacation visit, I will have no way of knowing.
The rest of her classmates may have long forgotten Naomi (I don't know), but I know her mum and dad will always remember her. And I will always remember her. A little epitaph for her is memorialized within me...and now also in this blog, I guess.