Saturday, June 30, 2007

Development: Yer doin' it Wrong**, example #101

From the department of Doh!! comes this story: Nigerian school without power receives 300 laptops

"We have been browsing the Internet and we are very happy", Juliet Onah, an excited primary six pupil, was quoted as saying. But she said powering the laptop remained difficult as the school had no electricity and the supply at home was irregular.

No further comment is really necessary is it?

** see some others who are doing it wrong here

Friday, June 29, 2007

Well thats a load off my mind!

Former astronaut Lisa Nowak didn't wear diapers during her 950-mile road trip to confront a romantic rival, her lawyer said Friday, disputing one of the more bizarre details to emerge from the NASA love triangle.

"The biggest lie in this preposterous tale that has been told is that my client drove from Houston, Texas, to Orlando, Florida, nonstop, wearing a diaper," Donald Lykkebak said. "That is an absolute fabrication."

You cannot be serious!!

In the "loser who needs to get over himself category", I hereby nominate one Isaiah Washington.

Apparently there is a TV show called Grey's Anatomy that Isaiah was recently fired from after almost coming to blows with another cast member and referring to yet another cast member with an anti-gay slur, which he then repeated later at an awards show.

However, in Mr. Washington's ego addled universe here is how he sees things:

"Maybe for 50 years and the history of media and television I represent something that's supposed to not exist...This happened to Malcolm X, this happened to Paul Robeson -- this misconception can happen to any man of power that loves himself and wants to spread that love and that humanity throughout the world."

Say What???????

Was Malcolm X the star of "Malcolm in the Middle"??

Paul Robeson basically broke the color bar at Rutgers University and crusaded against lynching, before he fell in love with Uncle Joe Stalin.

Have a good weekend people, don't forget to spread that love!!

A Nice Round Number

In a recent post I questioned whether African development problems stemmed largely from a lack of foreign aid. I asked "haven't untold billions of dollars been send in aid and debt relief?"

Well, untold billions is pretty fuzzy even for me, so I asked the redoubtable Bill Easterly if he perhaps knew how much aid had gone to Africa.

Here is what he told me: "Total net aid (including concessional loans net of repayment and debt relief) to Africa from 1960 to 2005 is about $600 billion in 2005 dollars. This is a figure I have calculated myself recently from World Bank World Development Indicators and OECD figures."

So there you have it people, after $600 billion has gone in with (in my view at least) precious little to show for it, J. Sachs is still advocating large increases in aid as the solution and casting aspersions on anyone who might beg to differ.

I still beg to differ.

He Had the Receipt! Is there a PROBLEM, Officer?

Plus tax, of course. $4.88 + tax.

Man pays $4.88 for plasma TV at Wal-Mart Fri Jun 29, 7:46 AM ET

While Wal-Mart is known for dropping its prices, one West Monroe
(KPC: That's in LOOOsiana, for you Yankees) man took the ad campaign seriously when he dropped the price of a plasma television from $984 to $4.88. Police arrested Chandon L. Simms, 23, on Tuesday at the retail store on a charge of felony theft.

According to police reports, Simms carried a 42-inch Sanyo Plasma TV to a self-checkout aisle after switching the original price tag of $984 with one for only $4.88. Wal-Mart Loss Prevention officers witnessed the alleged transaction and called police.

When the store officers stopped Simms on his way out the door, he produced a receipt for a television purchased at the West Monroe Wal-Mart, authorities said.

Simms told officers that he purchased a TV from the West Monroe store and planned to returrn that one and keep the one he purchased for only $4.88 from the Monroe store. He was then arrested and booked into the Ouachita Correctional Center.

Information from: The News-Star, through Yahoo

He thought he would get away with it, because he was going through the self-checkout? With a four foot long box that said, "Plasma TV"? Wow.

Story Blows Up Like A Tater in the Microwave

This story will not die.

In fact, the followups show it has legs. If a potato could have legs. Eyes?

Lots more background here, in the Bay City Times

Angus has already pointed out the conflict of interest that lies at the heart of this controversy. But the BCT is still working on that angle:

The first runner-up, Katie Smrecak, will serve as the Potato Queen until a new queen is chosen next month. Smrecak is the daughter of Don Smrecak, chairman of the Munger Potato Festival.

Don Smrecak and Katie Smrecak could not be reached by The Times, and her family declined to comment.

But here is the important new development. Please join!

But for Nowicki's family and friends - and even some strangers - she still reigns as the Potato Queen.

A group on titled ''ALLISON NOWICKI IS THE REAL MUNGER POTATO QUEEN'' was created by Nowicki's sister, Jennifer Nowicki, last week. There are about 25 members so far. Nowicki said she was flattered to find some group members who showed support were people she didn't know.

The Potato Queen preceding Nowicki, KayCe Caban, sympathizes with her as well.

''I know when I was queen, there was a lot of drama ... because I could also not do a lot of parades,'' said Caban, who now lives in Ocean City, Miss. ''It's a popularity contest. A lot of people were upset that I won, and I think that a lot of people were upset that she won. I'm just shocked that they would do that, especially so close to the end of her reign.''

Linda Jenkins, an Essexville resident, was the first runner-up for Potato Queen in 1973 and said she filled in for the queen for several parades and even crowned the new Potato Queen.

''My understanding is the first runner-up did step in when the queen wasn't available,'' Jenkins said. ''As first runner-up, I had a ball. I got to be in the parades ... I got to wear a sash - nobody knew the difference.''

Down goes Dubya

Immigration reform is dead and this time its for real. Besides reflecting on Bush's complete lack of clout with his party's dwindling congressional delegations (only 12 out of 49 Republican senators were with him), and speculating on his noble obsession with this issue, it is worth thinking about what happens next.

From my point of view, the status quo is preferable to the type of bill that would attract the votes of 61 Senators. Perhaps Congress could try some small ball and address raising the number of work visas available for skilled immigrants (the current H1B limit is 65,000 per year and they go faster than tickets to the Police reunion tour).

Far be it from me to give political advice to the Republican party, but anti-immigration does not seem to be a huge vote winning platform item. Perhaps a Democratic majority will pass a better bill in 2009?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Marat Safin, International man of mystery

Wimbledon is starting to get good. We are one more win each away from Sharapova vs. Venus Willams, Tim Henman is out so tv time and center court are both freed up for actual professional players and in the morning (if the Oklahoma-esque London weather allows), Marat Safin will play Roger Federer.

Safin is a brooding, enigmatic, freakishly talented, impish, underachieving tennis genius and I am predicting he pulls a big upset and takes out the robotically perfect Swiss star Federer, winner of the last 4 Wimbledons.

I know, I know, but I'm a kid with a dream.

ps. Rafael Nadal, last year's finals loser had this piercing analysis of the All-England Championships:

"The grass don't change," Nadal said Tuesday after beating Mardy Fish of the United States 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the first round. "Always is grass."

I Still Don't Get It

So the blockbuster 3-way trade sending Kevin Garnett to Phoenix, Amare Stoudemire to Atlanta and the #3 and #11 picks in the draft (plus two bums) to Minnesota didn't go through after all. Ah, Steve Kerr came to his senses you say, or Kevin McHale thought better of it. No, apparently it died because ATLANTA DECIDED AGAINST IT!!! That's right, the only team clearly getting a big net gain nixed the deal. Wow. I would love to be an NBA GM.

Scots wa hae*

Yes, my native land is in the news.

Gordon Brown takes over as PM of the UK. Glasgow born and Edinburgh educated, Brown is in many ways the anti-Blair. The Wall Street Journal has an incredibly smarmy and condescending profile of Brown on its editorial page today entitled, "So Who's this Gordon Brown Anyway".

Among the gems: "If he is having a bad time, big Gordon has a job disguising it. His purple lips start to pout. He begins to pull at his dark pepper-and-salt fringe, or at least he did until he recently had it shampooed and trimmed."

Wow and then there is this: in public he is a bundle of anxiety who thinks he must crush all resistance. His jaw juts when he speaks and he has a smallish repertoire of jokes. At a lectern he does not swagger or casually survey the throng. He pats his script repeatedly with two hands the fingernails of which are bitten to bleeding remnants. Not even the most skilled Manhattan manicurist could salvage those nails.

This has got to be an all time low, even for the WS Journal editorial page. I guess they are practicing up for eight years of Hillary bashing!

*if the title seems overly weird look here

Tootin' the Sachs-o-phone

Erstwhile economist and current development messiah Jeffery Sachs is again instructing us how to solve Africa's problems.

He tells us: "Africa will be the bank's test under incoming President Robert Zoellick. If it fails there, not only Africa but the bank will be in mortal peril."

Well I am just a dumb Okie, but Africa has been the World Bank's test since McNamara was president and the BANK HAS COMPLETELY, UTTERLY, AND IRREVOCABLY FAILED the test.

I think for the overwhelming majority of the Bank employees, the mission of the bank is to continue to secure rich nation funding, employment and pay raises (note that employment and pay raises are a universally common goal of workers everywhere, I am not necessarily faulting Bank employees here at all).

Sachs rightly decries the lack of accountability for results that the World Bank has enjoyed for 60 years and counting now: Yet the bank's managers have not been held accountable. Senior bank officials actually whisper to African leaders not to dream about achieving the (millenium development) goals, since the managers don't want to be responsible for ambitious targets. They hope that the goals will just fade away.

Even after saying all that, though, Sachs seems to indicate believe that somehow by hearing the sound of his voice the Bank can magically change and become an effective tool for development. Its actually pretty easy, they just gotta get more resources and do what he says with them.

Sachs comes incredibly close to giving African governments a free pass for their plight and putting the blame squarely on one George Bush and his "free market ideologue" pals.

Seasoned practitioners not held back by ideology and posturing know how rapidly results can be achieved.


Yet when it comes to Africa, according to Washington's free-market ideologues, all those wonderful things
(infrastructure) are supposed to spring up by themselves, with markets coming to the rescue. And when those things don't arrive, since there is no way to pay for them, African governments are blamed for corruption.

Wow. I mean, WOW!! Has Africa gotten no development aid before? Haven't untold billions of dollars been sent in aid and debt relief? Is the problem of Africa really not enough aid?

One more bar: And the core problem in Africa is not corruption but the lack of basic infrastructure and services.

Isn't there possibly a connection there? Just maybe?

Look, I agree with Sachs (and I greatly admire his commitment and passion) that corruption isn't the only, or even main, problem in Africa. But it is a significant problem.

I think that more broadly "governance" is the main problem in Africa, and all the aid in the world won't fix that. The solution is ultimately internal, not external.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I don't get it

Timberwolves talking three-way Garnett deal:

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett is close to going to the Phoenix Suns in a monumental three-way trade that would send Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire to the Atlanta Hawks, league sources said Wednesday.

Atlanta would move the Nos. 3 and 11 picks in Thursday's draft, as well as Zaza Pachulia and Anthony Johnson, to Minnesota.

Minnesota owner Glen Taylor has delivered a mandate to his basketball executives to get a deal done, one league executive said.

Bear with me people because its gonna take old Angus a while to break this one down for you. I'm not sure which part is crazier.

Kevin Garnett, 31 years old had the following stat line last year: 22.4 ppg (on 48% shooting), 12.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists. His career numbers are 20.5 (49%), 11.4 and 4.5 so even though he came to the league out of high school and has a lot of miles on him, he hasn't really slipped. He is going and the T-Wolves are getting two draft picks neither of which is Oden or Durant and two bums??

Phoenix is willing to give up Amare Stoudemire at 24 years of age and seemingly fully recovered from his microfracture surgery for the 31 year old Garnett? Here's Amare's stat line from last year: 20.4 ppg (at 57% shooting), 9.6 rebounds playing about 6 and a half minutes per game less than Garnett (he has virtually no assists, but then again, he's got Steve Nash).

I wouldn't do this if I were Phoenix, nor would I do it if I were Minnesota. And, if I were Minnesota, why wouldn't I trade Garnett heads up for Stoudemire (allowing for whatever juggling the cap rules require to make it work)?

Does Phoenix think this is Nash's last good year coming up but Amare won't peak for two or three more so they'll never be in synch for a championship?

What is it about Amare Stoudemire that I don't know? He's really 50? He's a bad teammate? Is a tattoo that says "Black Jesus" really THAT objectionable?

Tyler? Matt? Help me out here.

ps. if this goes through, I hope Emory University, Mercer University, Agnes Scott College, or Georgia Tech are hiring next year.

OKC, the Seattle of the Great Plains!!

From an AP wire story

In Oklahoma, about 20 firefighters had to use a raft to rescue 16-year-old twin sisters from their car, stalled in rushing bumper-deep water Tuesday.

The Oklahoma City area received about an inch of rain in 24 hours, bringing the city's annual total to 28.03 inches — about 10 inches above normal. Flooding closed some roads Wednesday in central and northeastern Oklahoma.

There are 10" wide mushroom caps growing in my backyard, people. We are gonna have to change "where the wind comes whistling down the range" to "where the rain comes running down your back" or something. Its like Ireland around here.

Munger Potato Queen: BAGGED!

Since we have been doing the Michigan thing here at KPC, I have to note that there is a scandal in Munger, MI: The "Potato Queen" has been called out and bagged. Her offense? She did not attend the Munger Potato festival events in the off-season.

Not just ANYONE gets to be queen. It takes dedication, and energy. You can't be one of those couch potatoes, and be Potato Queen, Allison Nowicki. You betrayed the public trust, and you had to be mashed.

BUT WAIT: Allison Nowicki fights back! Apparently it was just a misunderstanding. The accusation of holding back on the spud circuit?

Not so, says Nowicki, who appeared at the Miss Bay County Pageant, St. Johns Mint Festival, Bay County Fair, Montrose Blueberry Festival and Linwood Pickle Festival.

"The only one I missed was the (Bay City) St. Patrick's Day Parade," Nowicki, a sophomore at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, told The Bay City Times for a Monday story. "I called the first runner-up and told her I wasn't going to make it."

First runner-up Katie Smrecak, daughter of festival chairman Don Smrecak, will serve as queen until a new king and queen are crowned July 26 at the 53rd Annual Munger Potato Festival.

Munger is an unincorporated town about 85 miles north-northwest of Detroit.

Munger [sic? Nowicki?] said she had a school meeting that conflicted with the St. Patrick's Day Parade and couldn't make the 3 1/2-hour drive.

"To me, it wasn't about getting a crown and getting a sash — it was about getting to meet people and showing my love for Munger," Nowicki said. "Who knows if they're going to do that to next year's queen? I don't want anyone else to have to go through this."

Later in that story, we learn that "Two queen committee members declined comment." A cover-up! Call Oliver Stone!

For those of you thinking of attending this year's festival, it is July 26-30. Here is the schedule of events.....and here is what is going on, just on DAY ONE, Thursday (the order in which the events are listed escapes me):

Thursday, July 26
7:30 P.M.

Queen & King Chosen
7:00 P.M.

Jerkwater Town Boys*
8:00 P.M. till Midnight

Ellitott's Amusements
4 P.M. till Close

9:00 P.M. till ?

Bingo Tent
8:00 P.M. till ?

And, as the main ad states...well, here's what you can expect:
Family Fun - Activities for the entire family! - Famous Potato Bratwurst - Hot French Fries - Food Tent - Potato Display - Tons Of Free Potatoes

Do me a favor, open the door, let them in.

I'm a big fan of liberal immigration policies. My grandfather came here from Scotland with no skills, no real education (some would say he didn't really speak 'merican english even!!), and made a life for himself and his family opening up a grocery store in NYC. His children became railroad engineers, theologians, and bank vice presidents. His grandchildren have been at various times, airline mechanics, NYC policemen, realtors, and university professors.

I think immigration is win-win. Good for the immigrants and on net good for the host country. Yes I mean all immigrants. Heck, I love Mexico; lived there for two years.

So one would think I'd be happy about the news that the Senate (the worlds greatest deliberative body and all) had voted to take up the immigration bill again.


Holy Crap this is a weird one. Bush and Kennedy? Random amendments? A path to citizenship that takes time, money, and an attention to bureaucratic detail that woulda send my old granddad packing? Nothing to address the extreme limits we put on skilled immigrants?

The system that produced a 1,000+ page free trade bill, that tried to jumpstart the Doha talks by pledging to poor countries that we would definitely commit to capping our agricultural subsidies at a point well ABOVE their current levels, is now going to "do" immigration pressed by a desperate president.

I actually think I'm hoping for no bill at all.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

You Have To Learn How To Signal

Dr. Karlson is right in this, as in so many things.

Fighting over whose language to use seems silly.

Of course, maybe I just say that because I teach at a preternaturally expensive private school.....But acquiring a real facility with signals, and learning
how to fit in, and how to think and solve problems, EVEN IF THE PROBLEMS ARE MADE-UP AND ARE REALLY JUST ENTRY BARRIERS....It's valuable.

Education is the lubricant for social intercourse. There, I said it.

If we're so smart, why aren't they rich?

In the May 2007 issue of the American Economic Review, Bill Easterly argues that one reason why the overall package of development assistance offered by the World Bank and the IMF has not been very successful is that they (we?) mistakenly believe that they know what actions are needed to achieve development (ungated link here). First it was Investment that was the key to growth, then Human Capital, then Openness, then Institutions. As Easterly puts it: "Development economists have long known the answers on how to achieve development. The only problem is the answers change over time".

Meanwhile, in the September 2007 issue of the Journal of Development Economics, Robin and I provide empirical confirmation of this point by showing that while countries have become much more homogeneous in their policies (policy variables are converging), output paradoxically continues to diverge (ungated link here).

Specifically we show that Investment, Government Spending and Openness to Trade, and several measures of institutional quality are all converging in our sample of 90 countries from 1960-1999 while per capita incomes continue to diverge. A la Easterly, we interpret this as showing that poor countries have on average followed the development advice of the Bretton Woods Institutions (Bank and Fund), but have not gotten the promised payoff.

Going beyond this point, we also claim that our results show the neo-classical growth model to be totally inadequate to explain the data.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Blues Brothers: Mike and Linwood!

Mike and Linwood are both out of a job!

Now, I hope that Carrie Fisher can find them, and use her rocket launcher.

Why I am Not Not a Libertarian

DoF asks some good questions, and shares some very useful insights.

My two favorite "kill!" arguments from non-libertarians:

1. You just hate people!

2. You just don't want to pay taxes!

Gosh, those are devestating. I have no answer to those profound insights.

Danny, we hardly knew ye: Drezner Really *IS* a Moral Midget

Good lord! Dan Drezner, who pretends to have libertarian sensibilities, actually thinks that a system of fines for unpredictable, unintentional accidents will make the world a better place. He took a test; I give him an "F"!

(If you want to take the Moral Sense Test, do it now. Spoilers below)

Now, check this, from Dan:

I came across this Moral Sense test at Harvard.

It's an eight question test in which an action is described and then you are asked to award damages.

In the scenarios I was given, I awarded an average of $129 in fines. The average response of all test takers was approximately $72,000.

So, clearly, I'm a heartless bastard. [And you also like to make fun of short people!!--ed.] Or, I'm more willing to blame fortuna than people when bad but (largely) accidental things happen.

Dan! DAN! Walk away from those totalitarians at Tufts, and try to come towards the sound of my voice! THE PREMISE OF THE TEST IS THAT GOVERNMENT SHOULD FINE PEOPLE FOR ACCIDENTS, AND TAKE THE MONEY AT GUN POINT FOR USE IN THE GENERAL FUND!

These are TORTS, not criminal offenses. It is important that the victims do not receive the payment. An average of $129? GOTT IN HIMMEL! I had an "average payment of $0.00! I thought that several of the scenarios (like the peanuts in the allergist's office) were clear negligence, and that there was a cause of action for a law suit. Any allergy sufferer knows, or should know, that peanuts can be deadly, and in an allergist's office one expects to encounter people with.....ALLERGIES!

But not a fine! Why put government in charge of collecting fines when one private person harms another accidentally? You are in favor of criminalizing private mistakes, when there is a private remedy. There is no deterrent effect here, and no pretense of making the damaged party whole.

Danny, Danno, Danton....I thought you were one of us.


Berndt Coffee?

Interesting paper, by friend of KPC Colleen Berndt, on "Fair Trade Coffee."

Proponents of Fair Trade claim it improves the lives of farmers in developing countries by providing them a higher sale price for their crops, allowing for a higher standard of living, and offering the opportunity to escape the vulnerability of poverty. Drawing on field work conducted in Costa Rica and Guatemala, the author examines the observed effects of Fair Trade and finds it is unclear whether Fair Trade actually delivers on its promise. Rather, it may actually harm the long-term interests of small farmers in high-cost production areas.


Per molts anys, Antoni!!

One of the coolest things about visiting Barcelona is scoping the buildings of Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudi, who was born on this date in 1852. The pictures are nice but actually seeing these works is magical. I think Gaudi has been a huge influence on current funky superstar architect Frank Gehry

See more photos here

Now I'm a believer?

According to Sunday's NY Times, new Fed chair Ben Bernanke has made believers out of "the markets".

"Could an Ivy League academic like this ever have Street credibility? But as Mr. Bernanke meets with Fed policy makers this week to set interest rates, the answer is clear: yes, yes and yes again. If anybody has had to learn on the job, it has been Fed watchers and investors rather than Mr. Bernanke."

The article also claims that, despite having underestimated the housing mess, Bernanke has engineered a masterful economic soft landing where inflation falls gradually without a recession and growth picks back up soon. Second quarter growth for this year is being noised about at 3%.

There is at least one economist who doesn't agree, the emphatic Nouriel Roubini.

Me? I'm still stunned that academic economists don't automatically have mad street cred!

To Shoot, Perchance to Dream

Went out to the property in Chatham County yesterday.

Younger younger Munger and I went out early. Ah, the reason to have sons: you get to buy rifles, and pickup trucks, and people think MORE of you, because you are a good dad.

Then, Large Guns Man showed up, with his boys. We put the buffet out on the table. 8 mm Mauser rifle, AR 15, AK 74, the strangest Baretta carbine (with both flashlight and laser, straighth from Halo II), four different shotguns (two coach guns, and two with clips, which is psychotic) and a wild variety of pistols for dessert.

Angus had left behind a cooler after his visit to Duke a year ago. I had used it a few times, but left it at the property. Top blew off in winter, and cooler filled with water. Slime, mold, ick. My fault, a shame to waste the cooler. But since it was wasted, we wasted it good. More than 200 rounds of ammunition, and at least 50 shotgun shells, of many types, were blasted into the cooler at a range of 25 yards. The boys pose with the "kill."

(Identities disguised to protect the gunnutters, except for my son Brian, and the other kid. The other kid wandered out of the woods, ALMOST DIRECTLY BEHIND THE DIRECTION WE WERE FIRING. He heard the guns, and was drawn like a moth to the cordite.)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Weekend Update

Here at KPC we like to keep you informed about new developments on past posts, so without further ado:

(1) After while, Crocodile! Not if I see you first, Damien Hirst! KPC gave you art collecting advice, listing the most expensive living painters and which were most worth pursuing. Now word comes from the BBC this week that Damien Hirst's top sale price has jumped from $7.4 million to $19.3 million. Similarly, Lucien Freud's record price went from $8.2 million to $15.6 million. Wow, Contempory art prices are showing almost bubble-like behavior. KPC advises selling your Rothkos, Johns, Pollocks and the like ASAP.

(2) The NY Times has GOT to stop copying KPC! Earlier I reported with delight about Gustavo Arellano's awesome column "Ask A Mexican". Now the copycat NY Times has chimed in as well. Back off gray lady, he's OUR Mexican.

(3) Apres disbarment, le deluge! CNN reports that the Duke LAX 3 are (a) seeking to have Mike Nifong charged with criminal contempt of court and (b) asking a judge to order Nifong to pay their legal bills. So dreams do come true!


"The word "protection" is no longer taboo," he said. "Competition as an ideology, as a dogma, what has it done for Europe?" He said a competition policy could emerge "that will favour the emergence of European champions".

So, who's "he" you ask? Why it is our good friend Nick Sarkozy, the man who is going to bring economic reform and renewed vitality to France.

What exactly did our man do to re-legitimize protectionism and government favoritism in the EU? He insisted on having the words "undistorted competition" removed from the list of EU goals in the new draft of the constitution.

But Nick, can it really be so simple?

EU lawyers insist the removal of "undistorted competition" from the Union's objectives will have no legal impact on the European Commission's powers to police cartels and anti-competitive behaviour.

Oh, never mind. (and, as Mungowitz likes to say, "read the damn article here")