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Archive for December 6th, 2012

A delightful, rather demure, flash mob

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Thanks, Ursarodinia

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Written by Ed Campbell

December 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Politician divorces his wife of 4 days – by text message – WTF?

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Jarkarta, Indonesia — The marriage lasted four days and ended in divorce via text message, from the 40-year-old local politician to his 17-year-old wife.

Aceng Fikri claimed his young bride Fani Oktara was not a virgin, as she had claimed, so he decided to end the union, his lawyer Ujang Suja’I said.

She denied it, and in turn accused Aceng — who is the head of the district of Garut in West Java — of spreading baseless accusations against her. Her lawyer Danny Suliwisjaya told CNN that Aceng had deceived his client into marriage.

Aceng caused a stir after his July wedding to Fani. Although 16 is the legal age for marriage in Indonesia, Aceng was already married with children. Few Muslims practice polygamy, and while it is not against the law, Indonesian civil servants are also prohibited from taking on second spouses under strict regulations governing their private lives…

Aceng claimed divorcing his wife through text messaging is allowed under Islamic Sharia law, his lawyer said.

Public outrage over the marriage, and subsequent divorce, came after Fani reported Aceng to the police on Monday, asking that he be charged with falsifying his marital status, fraud, defamation and unpleasant conduct.

Police are still investigating Fani’s complaint; as yet, there are no charges against Aceng.

There have since been daily protests in Garut, calling for his resignation.

Nice to see a stink being raised. Too often the press in Muslim nations relegates a case like this to the back pages.

Even more important, public outrage over the corruption of this political figure, mistreatment of a woman, abuse of a teenager – all illustrates a nation moving towards modernism and willing to challenge reactionary religion-based foolishness.

Doesn’t mean justice will fall easily from the trees of law in Indonesia – but, case by case, times are changing.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 6, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Stupid awards made by our Patent Office never cease to amaze!

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Bill Gross, who runs the world’s largest mutual fund at Pacific Investment Management Co., received a U.S. patent for the methodology behind a global bond index that weighs countries by the size of their economy rather than their indebtedness. … By focusing on gross domestic product, the index avoids concentrating on countries saddled with debt and offers a greater weighting for developing markets…

…An index maintained by a third party and licensed for profit is less likely to be manipulated, since the third party’s incentives are (1) to make the index reliable so they can profit from selling it to everyone and (2) specifically not to make it unreliable so they can profit from manipulating it, since they’re in the index business rather than the trading-the-thing-referencing-it business.

That’s not Bill Gross’s business, though: he does trade the thing, rather a lot of it, and his goal in patenting this index is presumably less to profit by licensing it to anyone who asks than to profit by refusing to license it, making his the only GDP-weighted-in-this-particular-way bond fund in the land and thus competitively more desirable…

Market-cap weighting by definition gives you average performance, and if the GDP weighting is better – which the patent application argues it is – then it should in expectation give you above-average performance. So you should be able to charge a premium for it, and you should want to keep your competitors from using it.

So, like most patent applicants, he’s looking for a monopoly, and seems to have gotten one, though arguably of a rather limited kind since there’s after all more than one way to use arithmetic…But there’s arguably another, more pleasing reason for Gross to want to keep his index restricted. If investing relatively small amounts in global bonds via a GDP weighting does create outperformance, then everyone should use it. But of course the more people who use it, the less edge Pimco will have: investment strategies that reliably outperform attract imitators until the outperformance dissipates. If Bill Gross’s patent can delay others’ efforts to pile money into his strategy, that doesn’t just protect his stream of fees from investors in his funds, it also protects their performance.

Is this the sum of what the US Patent Office has become?

I have no beef with Bill Gross. His politics are reasonably mellow. He’s probably the largest single contributor to Doctors without Borders. He’s doing nothing more than meeting and matching the standard for silliness established by the world’s technology industry – with the full cooperation of our patent office. Hopefully, my tiny investment in one of his bond funds will appreciate by at least $1.67 over the next year as a result.

Still – this further provokes thoughts of somehow scrapping everything that body of bureaucrats have done in the past fifty or sixty years and starting afresh with realistic goals and standards.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 6, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Mr. Burns explains the fiscal cliff

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Har.

Makes as much sense as any other explanation from Republicans or their Kool Aid Party bubbas.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 6, 2012 at 8:00 am

Once again, beach dunes prove they blunt storms

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Long Beach, NY — Surfers railed against the project because they said it would interfere with the curl of the waves. Local businesses reliant on beach tourism hated it, too. Who would flock to the historic Boardwalk, they asked, if sand dunes were engineered to rise up and obscure the ocean view?

And many residents did not care for the aesthetics of the $98 million plan — declaring that they preferred the beach wide and flat, with the soft, light-colored native sand that they had grown up with.

So, six years ago, after the Army Corps of Engineers proposed to erect dunes and elevate beaches along more than six miles of coast to protect this barrier island, the Long Beach City Council voted 5 to 0 against paying its $7 million initial share and taking part.

Many of Long Beach’s 33,000 residents would come to regret it.

The smaller neighboring communities on the barrier island — Point Lookout, Lido Beach and Atlantic Beach — approved construction of 15-foot-high dunes as storm insurance. Those dunes did their job, sparing them catastrophic damage while Long Beach suffered at least $200 million in property and infrastructure losses, according to preliminary estimates.

Joe Vietri, director of coastal and storm risk management for the corps, toured the damaged coastlines after the 12-to-14-foot storm surge of Hurricane Sandy and came to an inescapable conclusion. “The difference was dramatic for areas with vital and healthy dune systems, which did better than those that did not,” he said in a telephone interview. “You can see the evidence on Point Lookout and Lido Beach, which did much better than Long Beach…”

…Up and down the coast, for the most part, dune barriers acted like soft sea walls made of sand and vegetation that even when flattened or breached still managed to protect places like Westhampton Beach on Long Island, Plumb Beach in Brooklyn, and Bradley Beach in Monmouth County, N.J., by blunting the attack of surging waves and tides.

Long Beach and other vulnerable communities will have to await an act of Congress before restoration and beach-protection projects can move forward. New York’s senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, have asked for a $1 billion emergency appropriation to pay for seven corps sea-barrier construction projects that have been approved by Congress but have never been financed. Included are construction on the south shore of Staten Island, Coney Island, Rockaway Beach, Long Beach and the shoreline from Fire Island to Montauk Point.

Frankly, these are the people who should go to the bottom of the list. Summer cottage NIMBYs and surfer-dudes haven’t world-class reputations for understanding the history and sensibility of sand dune systems; but, long time residents, year-round residents who’ve lived through off season storms tended to support the project. Especially geezers who’ve been through a big storm or two.

About as many hack politicians listened to them as pay attention to research on climate change. The information has been around for centuries in communities which have learned to live with storms around the world. Being able to afford overpriced real estate doesn’t automagically equip you with a degree in environmental engineering.

Spend the money first on folks who had the sense to recognize a sound idea when they confronted it.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 6, 2012 at 2:00 am

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