Weekly Meanderings, 14 December 2013

Weekly Meanderings, 14 December 2013 December 14, 2013

I’m glad baseball season is just around the corner. Time to start finding your favorite Yogi Berra statement (or fiction). Yogi was having a bad hair day, which is the same as a 70s hair day.

A good example of turning the other cheek, eh?

CLEVELAND — A man was caught on camera stealing from a tip jar.

But instead of pressing charges, a local coffee shop is choosing to host a food drive.

If you saw the surveillance video from the Nervous Dog Coffee Bar in Stow, Ohio, you would probably think it was a Christmas grinch stealing from these hard-working baristas.

“He stuck his hand straight into the tip jar and took out as much as he could get and walked out like nothing happened,” Manager Scott Moses says.

But according to Moses and the shop’s owner, this was no grinch.

“We assume that if he was desperate enough to steal tips, he’s probably in desperate times,” Moses says.

Instead of pressing charges or even filing a police report, the Nervous Dog found grounds for generosity.

“In the holiday spirit, we decided to help this guy out,” says Moses.

Both Nervous Dog Coffee locations, in Stow and in Akron, have started a food drive.

And if the man in the video comes forward, the food will be given to him, no questions asked.

Nine facts that are fake … and fun to know.

A very insightful article on why Christians disagree.

Hauling things around on a cargo bike:

SEATTLE (AP) – One fisherman uses a bike to deliver hundreds of pounds of salmon to local markets. A mom who regularly shuttles her two kids around town once tried to haul a twin mattress home. And some companies are using the bikes to deliver beer kegs or pick up recycling.

Cyclists are pushing the limits of what they can haul on cargo bikes – sturdy two-wheelers built to haul lots of stuff. The so-called SUV of bicycles are increasingly popular in pedal-friendly communities, from Washington state to Massachusetts.

Families are using the bikes to do everything they did on four wheels – schlepping kids to school, hauling groceries or running errands – without the hassle of finding parking. Some do it to help the environment in a small way or get exercise, while others say it is an easier, more fun way to get around.

“(Our) bike has turned into our go everywhere minivan,” said Julian Davies, a Seattle physician who regularly hauls his two kids in a cargo bike.

Companies also are using bikes to deliver beer around Portland, Ore., collect recycling in Cambridge, Mass., or pick up dirty laundry in Philadelphia.

Cargo bikes are common in countries like Denmark and The Netherlands, but they’re catching on in the U.S. Companies such Xtracycle, Yuba and Metrofiets are catering to this niche, while major bike makers like Trek are also developing their own lines.

Did they find Roanoke Island?

Want to go in with us to buy one? (Yougottabekiddin’me.)

The same can be said of the building itself. One57 exemplifies a new type of skyscraper — very tall, improbably slender, ostentatiously opulent — that is reshaping a famous skyline composed mostly of bulky office buildings.

One such apartment tower under construction, 432 Park Avenue, will have a top floor higher than the Empire State Building’s observation deck. Another will have a top floor higher than any in One World Trade Center, which is officially (by virtue of its spire) the nation’s tallest building.

The 432 Park penthouse has sold for $95 million; two duplex apartments at One57, now nearing completion, also are under contract, each for more than $90 million. Even a studio apartment on a lower floor at 432 Park (designed for staff — a maid or butler) costs $1.59 million.

Such prices seem incongruous in a nation that has yet to recover from the 2008 financial crisis; that lost its lead in skyscraper construction decades ago; and that suffered a terrorist attack in 2001 that seemed to dampen enthusiasm for high-rise living.

The 4% rule changes to 3% rule.

Ever since a California financial planner named William P. Bengen proposed it in 1994, retirees have relied on what’s known as the 4% rule – if they withdraw 4% of their nest eggs the first year of retirement and adjust that amount for inflation thereafter, their money would last at least 30 years.

But Bengen’s rule has lately come under attack. It was developed when interest yields on bond index mutual funds hovered around 6.6%, not the 2.4% of today, raising clear questions about how well bonds could support a 4% rule. As one academic paper, published earlier this year in the Journal of Financial Planning, put it: “The 4 Percent Rule Is Not Safe in a Low-Yield World.”…

In contrast, T. Rowe Price, which offers a retirement income calculator, still believes that “4% gives you a high likelihood of success,” said Christine Fahlund, a senior financial planner at the Baltimore, Md.-based mutual fund firm. In a fall 2013 newsletter, the firm said clients with a mix of 60% stocks and 40% bonds – a relatively risky profile – could use an initial withdrawal rate of 4.3%.

They could use an even higher rate of 5.1% if they don’t take cost-of-living increases during years when their portfolios lost money, T. Rowe Price said.  Risk-adverse retirees with all-bond nest eggs should use a lower 2.8% initial withdrawal rate.

Abandoned castles in France: Want one?

Airplane annoyances.

Inattentive parents — those with no control over their crying or naughty kids — and rear seat kickers, little or big, rank as the two most irritating types of fellow flyers, according to Expedia.com’s recently released 2013 Airplane Etiquette Study.

The 1001 adult Americans surveyed were given the names and definitions of 19 types of improprieties on airplanes and asked to vote for their three most annoying. Wimpy parents received the most wagging fingers, 41%, and foot kickers scored second at 38%.

Virginia Hughes, on evolution and aging:

Why we age is a tricky evolutionary question. A full set of DNA resides in each of our cells, after all, allowing most of them to replicate again and again and again. Why don’t all tissues regenerate forever? Wouldn’t that be evolutionary advantageous?

Since the early 1950s, evolutionary biologists have come up with a few explanations, all of which boil down to this: As we get older, our fertility declines and our probability of dying — by bus collision, sword fight, disease, whatever — increases. That combination means that the genetic underpinnings of aging, whatever they are, don’t reveal themselves until after we reproduce. To use the lingo of evolutionary biology, they’re not subject to selective pressure. And that means that senescence, as W.D. Hamilton wrote in 1966, “is an inevitable outcome of evolution.”

Except when it’s not.

Today in Nature, evolutionary biologist Owen Jones and his colleagues have published a first-of-its-kind comparison of the aging patterns of humans and 45 other species. For folks (myself included) who tend to have a people-centric view of biology, the paper is a crazy, fun ride. Sure, some species are like us, with fertility waning and mortality skyrocketing over time. But lots of species show different patterns — bizarrely different. Some organisms are the opposite of humans, becoming more likely to reproduce and less likely to die with each passing year. Others show a spike in both fertility and mortality in old age. Still others show no change in fertility or mortality over their entire lifespan.

Fascinating AP story now come to light:

WASHINGTON (AP) — In March 2007, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson flew to Kish Island, an Iranian resort awash with tourists, smugglers and organized crime figures. Days later, after an arranged meeting with an admitted killer, he checked out of his hotel, slipped into a taxi and vanished. For years, the U.S. has publicly described him as a private citizen who traveled to the tiny Persian Gulf island on private business.

But that was just a cover story. An Associated Press investigation reveals that Levinson was working for the CIA. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts — with no authority to run spy operations — paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world’s darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S.

The CIA was slow to respond to Levinson’s disappearance and spent the first several months denying any involvement. When Congress eventually discovered what happened, one of the biggest scandals in recent CIA history erupted.

Behind closed doors, three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined. The CIA paid Levinson’s family $2.5 million to pre-empt a revealing lawsuit, and the agency rewrote its rules restricting how analysts can work with outsiders.

But even after the White House, FBI and State Department officials learned of Levinson’s CIA ties, the official story remained unchanged.

“He’s a private citizen involved in private business in Iran,” the State Department said in 2007, shortly after Levinson’s disappearance.

“Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip to Kish Island, Iran,” the White House said last month.

Details of the unusual disappearance were described in documents obtained or reviewed by the AP, plus interviews over several years with dozens of current and former U.S. and foreign officials close to the search for Levinson. Nearly all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive case.

The AP first confirmed Levinson’s CIA ties in 2010 and continued reporting to uncover more details. It agreed three times to delay publishing the story because the U.S. government said it was pursuing promising leads to get him home.

The AP is reporting the story now because, nearly seven years after his disappearance, those efforts have repeatedly come up empty. The government has not received any sign of life in nearly three years. Top U.S. officials, meanwhile, say his captors almost certainly already know about his CIA association.

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