The Fed Is Getting Back To Normal

Sep 18 2014 @ 11:39am

Ylan Mui has the details of yesterday’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting, in which Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen laid out a plan to draw down the Fed’s massive stimulus program in light of the economic recovery and the upward trajectory of the job market:

The improving outlook means that the recovery no longer needs as much support from the nation’s central bank. Since the start of this year, the Fed has been slowly reducing the amount of money it is pumping into the economy. The central bank said Wednesday it will reduce its purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to $15 billion in October, down from $85 billion a month last year. The Fed expects to end the program altogether when it meets next month.

Still, the Fed said it will maintain the size of its balance sheet for now –which stands at $4.4 trillion — by reinvesting maturing securities. The Fed holds more than four times as many assets as it did before the 2008 financial crisis. Though the central bank said Wednesday it is committed to shrinking the balance sheet to a more normal size, it formally announced it does not plan to sell any of its assets, a reversal of the plan laid out three years ago. Instead, the Fed said it will eventually stop reinvesting maturing securities and let them run off. However, the central bank said Wednesday that process will not start until after it has successfully raised its benchmark interest rate.

Neil Irwin rejoices at the prospect of a return to boring monetary policy:

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West Africa’s 9/11?

Sep 18 2014 @ 11:17am

The West African country of Liberia is crippled by a recent outbreak of the Ebola virus.

Compiling coverage of the Ebola epidemic from around the region, Margaret Hartmann points to a reflection by Liberian journalist Makanfi Kamara on how the outbreak, whose death toll is approaching that of September 11, 2001, is impacting her society in a similarly extreme way:

The Ebola virus has not only caused tragedy and changed the lives of people affected, but it has also drastically affected our life style. Liberians are so used to greeting each other by touch – a hand shake here, an embrace there, even a kiss. Where we used to share cups, bowls and spoons; beds, clothes and shoes; we now think thrice about potential threats of infection from our closest friends and relatives. Instead, we wash hands religiously at every door post, keep a distance beyond arm’s length and sometimes bow to greet each other like the Chinese. Some women have even put their male partners “on dryer” – a moratorium on sexual activity until the Ebola Season is over. And many men have admitted that, fearing for their own lives, they have decided to “abide by the rules of the game” – fidelity.

There are also direct and indirect psychological effects:

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A Vote Against Inequality?

Sep 18 2014 @ 10:57am

Katie Engelhart views the Scottish vote as a manifestation “of the increasingly hot debate about rising global inequality and what we should do about it”:

Scotland’s pro-independence movement differs from similar movements in places like Catalonia, Kurdistan, and eastern Ukraine in that it does not revolve around hard identifiers like language, religion, and ethnicity (or Russian military backing). What divides Scotland and England is a vocal lilt and a legacy of 14th-century clan warfare—seemingly surmountable obstacles to keeping a country together. As a result, Scottish nationalists have taken to claiming that London is to blame for all of Scotland’s economic ills. They contend that, with independence, Scotland can strike a different kind of compromise with its citizens. They argue that a vote for independence is a vote against inequality.

Reporting from Scotland, Noah Caldwell heard over and over again “the belief that Scots are fairer, more caring and more egalitarian than the rest of the United Kingdom”:

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Scotland’s Day Of Reckoning

Sep 18 2014 @ 10:36am

The Guardian is live-blogging the Scottish vote. From their afternoon summary:

A final poll has put the no vote on 53% and yes on 47%, in line with other recent predictions. The poll, by Ipsos Mori for the London Evening Standard, also found that 90% of Scots said they intended to vote today, with 57% saying they based their votes on hope more than fear.

Ben Page, the chief executive of Ipsos Mori, unpacks that poll:

[T]here is the idea of “silent Nos” – that there is a spiral of silence making some intimidated “No” voters less likely to agree to take part in surveys at all, or to say they are undecided or refusing to say how they will vote and biasing the sample. The challenge for us is spotting them in the polling data and how to treat them. If “shy Nos” really don’t want to take part in even internet surveys, or completely private phone calls, then even with samples that are demographically matched to Scotland’s population, we will be understating the size of a No vote. We will see.

The Guardian is also keeping tabs on the voting process:

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Cool Ad Watch

Sep 18 2014 @ 10:00am

So perfectly understated:

Sacking Plastic Bags

Sep 18 2014 @ 9:28am

Katie Rose Quandt contemplates California’s new plastic-bag ban:

There is evidence that bag bans and taxes can cut down on some of this waste: Ireland’s 2002 tax cut bag usage between 75 and 90 percent. An analysis of bag use in Australia found that 72 percent of customers accepted single-use bags that were offered for free. When a nominal fee was charged, usage dropped to 27 percent (33 percent switched to reusable bags and 40 percent made do without).

But there’s one major downside to bag bans: Although plastic bags’ manufacture is relatively energy intensive (according to the Australian government, a car could drive 36 feet with the amount of petroleum used to make a single plastic bag), other kinds of bags use even more fossil fuel. A heavy-duty, reusable plastic bag must be used 12 times before its global warming impact is lower than continuing to use disposable bags, according to a study by the UK Environment Agency. A cotton bag takes 132 uses, and a paper bag—which will still be legal with California’s 10-cent fee—must be used four times before its global warming impact is less than using single-use bags.

And Brian Palmer reflects on grocery bags of yore:

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Husband Beaters, Ctd

Sep 18 2014 @ 9:00am

Another reader shares his story:

I am a large, physically capable male who worked as a bouncer in bars through most of university. My ex-wife was emotionally and physically abusive. She would hit/attack me without warning, sometimes when I was asleep, sometimes during sex (out of the blue), rarely in front of witnesses, even though the kids saw her do it a couple of times.

When my ex-wife would hit me, I would challenge her later (after a cool-down). I would ask her why she did it, and why she felt it was ok to hit me, but not ok for a man to hit a woman. Her response was a few apologies, many deflections and dismissals, and often “My mom did a lot worse to my dad.”

FYI: for very personal reasons, I am a violence-against-women activist and have been since my late teens. I do not strike or abuse women. I am a firm feminist. My ex-wife would use that to her advantage, knowing I wouldn’t respond other than verbally and to try to protect myself without striking back. I didn’t even grab her wrists – except once, when she attacked me while I was sleeping and I was disoriented on awakening.

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Seeing Green

Sep 18 2014 @ 8:31am


Michael Gorra shares insights from Green: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau:

In the Renaissance the color’s chemical instability made it seem “false” and even treacherous, a “deceptive color, simultaneously appealing and disappointing.” As such, it became associated with games of chance or hazard; think of the green baize with which tables for cards or craps or pool are covered even now. The color here carries a symbolic charge that is inseparable from its use—gambling means green. It connotes luck, the ups and downs of a player’s fortunes, and it also suggests avarice.

A sixteenth-century painting by Quentin Massys shows a money changer spreading his wares on a table covered by a verdant cloth, and in fact the Seven Deadly Sins had each their color. In early modern Europe pride was seen as red and black betokened anger, while in pictures the greedy Judas was often clad in green. In northern Italy, as Pastoureau writes, “dishonest debtors” might be clapped into the stocks wearing acornuto verde, and bankrupts were later said to have taken “the green bonnet.”

Other scholars have touched on aspects of Pastoureau’s project, most notably John Gage in his 1993 Color and Culture. But none of them approaches his range or indeed his prodigality, a range that makes Green and its companions seem stuffed with rarities and wonders, an attic of all the centuries, right up to Babar’s cheerful lime suit.

(Image: depiction of Judas by Fyodor Andreyevich Bronnikov via Wikimedia Commons)

The Sociology Of Style

Sep 18 2014 @ 8:00am

Rachel Signer praises the new book Women In Clothes:

It is a striking endeavor in that it is … verifiably “crowd-sourced” and contains no input from anyone who could be considered a style icon, although a former fashion model and a prominent fashion critic are amongst those who contributed survey responses. The book is, in this sense, a truly contemporary item, representing an age brought along through the Internet’s dominance, in which all opinions are valid, and sharing private thoughts and practices is acceptable.

Jenna Sauers also recommends the collection:

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Maria Konnikova examines the work of neuroscientist Roberto Malinow, who appears to have wiped out the memories of rats:

Malinow’s team used Pavlovian conditioning to teach the rats to fear a tone: each time the tone sounded, they would feel an electric shock in their feet. Soon, as predicted, they froze at the tone itself. Then, the U.C.S.D. scientists did away with both the tone and shock. Instead, they stimulated the relevant nerve cells – the route between the hearing centers and the fear centers—by shining a blue light pulse. The rats froze, as though they had heard the tone. Not only had the researchers created a memory but they could trigger it without making any environmental changes.

They then went a step further:

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