Saturday, February 23, 2008

More good news for Angus

From the NY Times: Millions of Americans are giving up golf!!

As Mungowitz can tell you, Angus on a crowded, slow playing course is a heart attack waiting to happen (either my own or the one I give to someone), so maybe I will now live longer, blog stronger and have more fun on the course this coming season.

The Big Cactus comes through

Steve Kerr has to be thrilled. He rolled the dice and they came up Diesel. In Shaq's first two games with the Suns, they have out-rebounded their opposition 46-33 and 50-32. For the season (including these two games) the Suns get out-rebounded on average by 46 to 41. You gotta control your own backboard to win championships and the Suns have never been able to do that up til now.

Plus Amare has gone nuts since the trade, playing tremendous. Shaq's presence really makes things easier for Amare, plus it seems like he was happy to get rid of The Matrix.

Sure, I know Shaq has high milage and his contract goes on for a long time and a lot of money, but hey, Nash and G. Hill aren't getting any younger. Phoenix's time is now. I think they made a great move.

Wouldn't a Suns - Lakers western conference final be incredible? So many stars, so much history, so much great ball.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Web 2.0

Marc A on "Web 2.0"

He ought to know.

Separated at Birth???

This is a goodun, people. KPC pal Brian Roberts and NYTimes columnist David Brooks. Holy Spumoli!

For Gabriel Mihalache

KPC friend Gabriel recently ripped econ bloggers for no longer posting about economics (lol, imagine that!).

So here you go Gabe!

1. Maybe the Stimulus will work after all. The December 2007 JPE gives us "The Reaction of Consumer Spending and Debt to Tax Rebates" by Sumit Agarwal, Chunlin Liu, and Nicholas S. Souleles. Here is the abstract, an ungated version can be downloaded from here)

"We use a new panel data set of credit card accounts to analyze how consumers responded to the 2001 federal income tax rebates. We estimate the monthly response of credit card payments, spending, and debt, exploiting the unique, randomized timing of the rebate disbursement. We find that, on average, consumers initially saved some of the rebate, by increasing their credit card payments and thereby paying down debt. But soon afterward their spending increased, counter to the permanent income model. Spending rose most for consumers who were initially most likely to be liquidity constrained, whereas debt declined most (so saving rose most) for unconstrained consumers."

2. Researchers are finally checking their e-mail! From the crazy kids at Vox (fair and balanced?) comes "Is distance dying at last?" by Griffith, Lee, & Van Reenen. Here's a snippet (full article here):

"The well-known phenomenon of home bias in ideas is alive and well – German are quicker at citing other Germans, British quicker at citing other British, and so on. What is more interesting is how home bias has changed over time – on average the bars in the later period are lower than the bars in the earlier period. This suggests that home bias in ideas has fallen. In the later, post-1990 period, the French are only about 1% slower in citing Germans, and the Americans only about 5% slower in citing Germans inventors than the Germans themselves."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I felt the earth....move....under my feet.

A blog entry reporting on a new seismic theory.

Money quote: "A cost-effective way of averting earthquake damage," said (Member of the Knesset) Benizri, "would be to stop passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the State of Israel, which anyways causes earthquakes."

Oh, my. Seems that MK Benizri could probably win in the 10th District HR seat in NC.

(Nod to El Zorno, who spins MY world)

Gotta Love the NY Post.....

because they run stuff like this:

To illustrate graphically how important Texas is to Hill's hopes. What do you guys think, will Texas be Alamo for Billary? or instead of Davy Crockett will she end up playing the role of Santa Anna?

Instant NBA Overanalysis

Wow the J-Kidd trade by Dallas was HORRIBLE (note that this has a chance of actually being true). Kidd looked like the middle aged wife-beater that he is last night as Chris Paul ran rings abound him and the Hornets beat the Mavs.

Here are the details.

Kidd: 8 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists to 6 turnovers and 3 steals. His team was -14 points with him on the floor.

Paul: 31 points, 5 rebounds, 11 assists to 1 turnover and 9 steals. His team was +20 points with him on the floor.

Note that CP3 played 4 more minutes than did Kidd.

Meanwhile, it has become imperative that the league step in and take over the operations of the New York Knickerbockers (note that this actually might be a good idea). Last night, the team simply didn't show up for their game in Philadelphia. the 76ers scored 100 points in three quarters, the Knicks trailed by 45 at one point in the third quarter, they committed 23 turnovers (to 12 for the 76ers) and were outrebounded 43-31. Philly shot 57% from the floor agains the Knick "defense". It's probably good to remember that the 76ers stink and shouldn't be able to beat anyone this badly.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Madagascar, baby!!

After reading Tyler on travel, we got ourselves busy and.....

It's official, the Angus family summer vacation has been set. We goin' to Madagascar! Lemurs, Sifakas, Chameleons, Fossas, Baobobs, Spiny Forest, and Tsingy!

Specifically, we plan to visit Perinet, Berenty, Kirindy, the grand tsingy du Bemeraha, and Ampijoroa (note that the Malagasy people have helpfully renamed a lot of these places, along with their currency). Time to brush up my French and learn a little Malagasy. It was amazing how happy people were in Tanzania to hear us speaking a little tiny bit of Swahili. It's great to learn a few basics in the local language whenever possible.

Here is a story about a trip to Mad, written by a cool guy we met and made friends with last year on our trip to Tanzania, Andrew Solomon.

If any readers have further or alternative suggestions for what to do in Mad, we'd love to hear from you (note that we don't travel this far to go to the beach though).

Some anticipatory pics:

What Gives Me the Right?

Interesting. Do I get to carry a portable device that blocks cell phone reception in an area?

This jobbie works, if I read the description right, on an area of radius 10 meters, out from the unit in my pocket. So, I could keep you from making or receiving cell phone calls in a car, or in a conference room.

So, if this device is legal, at one point would it become illegal? At a power/radius of 100 meters? How about 10 miles? Can I block all cell phone use in a circle of 10 mile radius?

At some point, it is clearly illegal, or should be. Yes?

UPDATE: Yes. Clearly illegal.

But then why the hecking heck does it pop up on Facebook?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Das Car Boot

Strange ideas about property.

You can't trespass on private property, just to park
your overpriced Nipponese Urban Assault Vehicle.

But then you REALLY can't take the parking boot, and try
to sell it on Ebay.

Unless you are a lawyer. In which case you think that "Property"
means "mine."

Hizzoner! Feature Creep....

Hizzoner the Mayor speaks, on feature creep.

The context is an actual newsletter, in an actual town, where the Mayor is an actual Mayor.

Online video games have something to teach us about the flesh and blood world. Actually, they have many things to teach us but I want to focus on just one, the notion of “feature creep.” Feature creep is a tendency for programmers to add more and more features to the game than were originally planned. More features are good, right? They mean the game can do more things. They also increase complexity, increasing the probability that the game will be so overburdened with features it cannot do its original purpose very well and crashes easily.

The same thing happens in government as people try to add more things for government to do. I often hear people say, “Wouldn’t it be great if the city …” fill in your favorite phrase here—gave scholarships, showed free movies, paid the utilities bill for those below a certain income level, stepped into disputes between neighbors, built trails, and on and on. Each new feature is a good idea. Everyone has the best of intentions.

The problem with feature creep in government is that the new features get in the way of doing the things that actually need to be done. Plowing snow, fixing and maintaining roads, running effective water and sewer systems, fire protection, and providing a police and court system are things that need and ought to be done. When we start adding other features beyond those, we stretch tax dollars and staff ever thinner. Like a feature-laden video game, we become slower and consume more resources. We start asking government to do more than it can, making it difficult to do what it should.

In a recent meeting with city staff where a new feature concerning fences was being considered, I responded that city government has enough to do without adding new features. Doing our core mission well is my purpose as mayor. Please let us know how well you think we are doing.

Need, And Want

We all need a little Munger, don't we?

Article from the Daily Tar Heel, by Charles Dahan

Sovereign Debt and the Siren's Song

Anything I can do.....

....Roger Myerson can do better.

The Autocrat's Credibility Problem and Foundations of the Constitutional

Roger Myerson
American Political Science Review, February 2008, Pages 125-139

A political leader's temptation to deny costly debts to past supporters is a central moral-hazard problem in politics. This paper develops a game-theoretic model to probe the consequences of this moral-hazard problem for leaders who compete to establish political regimes. In contests for power, absolute leaders who are not subject to third-party judgments can credibly recruit only limited support. A leader can do better by organizing supporters into a court which could cause his downfall. In global negotiation-proof equilibria, leaders cannot recruit any supporters without such constitutional checks. Egalitarian norms make recruiting costlier in oligarchies, which become weaker than monarchies. The ruler's power and limitations on entry of new leaders are derived from focal-point effects in games with multiple equilibria. The relationships of trust between leaders and their supporters are personal constitutions which underlie all other political constitutions.

(PDF, if your university or library subscribes)

(nod to KL)

(Mu)Sharraf don't like it, Rock the Casbah!

Opposition parties together appear to have won a majority of seats in Pakistan's parliamentary elections. Musharraf's party is in third place, and many key figures in it lost their seats.

According to a (questionable) source (Joe Biden), Musharraf was accepting the defeat:

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, apparently handed a huge defeat in elections for his country’s national assembly, accepts the results and may be willing to assume a largely ceremonial role, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said Tuesday.

“ ”The results are clear, we lost. The outcome isn’t going to change,’ ” Biden quoted Musharraf as telling a delegation of three American senators that included Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. “I’ve known him for a long time . . . He seemed like reality had set in.”

Biden told McClatchy that he believed that Musharraf, who assumed power in a military coup in 1999, would ask one of his opponents to form a new government. Whether he would then step into the background “will depend on how the coalition government is formed and how he is treated personally.”

Musharraf made no public statement about the elections, whose final results were not expected till Tuesday night or Wednesday. But unofficial tallies by Pakistani newspapers and television channels and partial official returns showed the party that has backed Musharraf, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, heading for massive defeat.

If it stands, this is good news. Pakistan tops my list of scariest countries in the world and to see the election go through with secular opposition parties forming a government is a great outcome.

Hot Links!

No, not that. But the folks at Long or Short Capital and Fire Joe Morgan have each put out comedic gems. Note that there is more than a fair amount of profanity in the FJM link.

Long or Short Capital: Bloomberg Writers are Boobs! Here's an excerpt:

"Recommendation: Terrible reporters, please stop looking at the stock price and then writing a story to fit it. Also, please stop being so terrible, at least until I establish a large short position in you."

Fire Joe Morgan: This is what we're up against. Here's an excerpt:

"Using a complex statistical method,

for nerds with calculators and pocket protectors and Daily News subscriptions,

researchers concluded that Alex Rodriguez was one of the best shortstops in the game when he played for the Texas Rangers.

This is an interesting finding. I wish I knew more about how the study worked. Just kidding: give me what Mike Birch has to say on the matter. Mike Birch works at Lids, the hat store.

"I don't know what they're smoking down at Penn," said Yankees fan Mike Birch, 32.

Take that, complex statistical study. Birch is insightful and funny. One time he sold me a sweet lid with the Under Armor logo on it. "I don't know what they're smoking"! Classic. Classic Birch.

"That's preposterous. I completely disagree. Jeter's a clutch player."

In one corner: "The method involved looking at every ball put in play in major league baseball from 2002 through 2005 and recorded where the shots went. Researchers then developed a probability model for the average fielder in each position and compared that with the performance of individual players to see who was better or worse than average."

In the other corner: Mike Birch. Watches three innings a week, occasionally while sober. Listens to Mike and the Mad Dog "except when they talk too smart and shit." Watches "Rome Is Burning" with the sound off. I.Q. of 175. Graduated from Cambridge University. Fields Medal winner.

I know who I'm taking."

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Grand Game: Video Edition

An excellent candidate for KPC's "Grand Game"!

Remember, the way we play the grand game is to invite readers to investigate an article or video on another site, and write in comments about their favorite absurdity.

Here's the video. It's a doozy. An extremely target-rich environment.

I'll go first:

1. The sockpuppets use GOOGLE constantly. GOOGLE is one of the companies that has led the way in making employees feel like owners. Thousands of people make very large salaries at GOOGLE, and produce something useful, something so useful that even sarcastic sock puppets in some sort of Marxist claptrap find it useful. But according to the sock puppets, GOOGLE must be one of the worst offenders, because its workers, who think they are happy and part of a team, are wrong, wrong, WRONG.

2. Ditto Apple. Everything I just said, except about Apple.

3. Is the whole thing intended as irony? I mean, not even a sock puppet could be so stupid as to believe the one guy's dad would really be better off as a union worker in some textile mill, at $4.50 an hour, with lint-filled lungs, compared to GOOGLE, right? Am I just missing the subtlety? (At first, I thought I was. But looking at the list of authors for that blog, themselves sock puppets for a wide variety of liberal fellow travellers, bedwetters, and handwringers, I decided that they must be playing it Old Mutual.)

(Nod to El Zorno)

MR Book Club: Special Okie Edition! Chapter 7 of "The Logic of Life"

Today we are discussing Tim Harford's chapter on cities, called "The World is Spiky". Special thanks to MR readers for swinging over to this dusty corner of the interwebs. Let me start by saying that Tim must be right, because the opposite position is “The World is Flat” and Thomas Friedman is always wrong! Secondly, this is a very fun book, highly recommended for the intelligent layperson (yes we economists are ordained in a secret ritual) or student of economics.

Here is my summary of Tim’s argument. Cities are expensive, and that expense is above and beyond paying the necessary rents to gain access to their unique amenities. Cities are marked by knowledge spillovers, a positive externality (don’t get mad Bryan) where human capital grows faster when one is around more humans. And the internet, rather than reducing the positive effects of cities on productivity, actually enhances them. Thus, rather than subsidizing rural areas, perhaps we should consider subsidizing cities.

Luckily for Tim and his prospective book sales, he tells this story in a much more entertaining way than I just did. But I still have some questions, suggestions, and quibbles.

The claim is made that salary differences don’t match up with cost of living differences and the reason for this is knowledge spillovers, but it is not spelled out exactly how that would work. An alternative seems to me that zoning restrictions create these big rents and pre-existing property owners are sucking a lot of the consumer surplus out of people with high valuations on cool experiences. There are a lot of experiences that are simply unavailable outside of a big wealthy city.

Tim discusses “failing cities” and describes (correctly I think) why people still live there, but gives no explanation for why they failed if indeed cities produce these positive externalities. There is no discussion of some of the very biggest cities in the world; Mexico City, Lagos, Jakarta. It would be nice to know where the argument works, where it doesn’t and how to know which is which.

In discussing the advantages large cities have in producing quality services (another reason why mechanical cost of living comparisons are not very accurate), I would suggest that Tim consider work like Murphy Shleifer & Vishny’s “The Allocation of Talent” which shows how the most able entrepreneurs will run the largest firms (which for services would be located where the largest populations are concentrated).

I don’t think the case of how the internet affects the advantages of cities is open and shut either. In my own profession, isolated researchers have benefitted greatly from technological advances and our journals show an increasing flow of work from outside the traditional East Coast Bastions.

Anyway, thanks to Tim for writing such a fun book and to Tyler for subcontracting this chapter out to me. What do you guys think of cities, prices, and spillovers?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hoop Dreams

I am an NBA fan from way back. From Walt Bellamy and Cazzie Russell and Bob Lanier. I love basketball and the NBA allstar weekend, especially the dunk contest. And I have always thought that Vince Carter (as much as I disrespect his overall game) gave the greatest dunk contest performance ever back in 2000. You can see that show here (the last dunk is the best).

Then I watched the 2008 contest (not live last night but this morning courtesy of TIVO) and WOW!! I now say Dwight Howard's performance was the greatest dunk contest performance ever. All the dunks were mindbogglingly hard, creative, and executed with real style. His Superman throw-down (be sure to watch long enough to see the slo-mo replays) was to my mind the best of his three.

Vince still has the best dunk ever done in a game though, you can see it here.

Nick Kristof gets his Angus on!!!

In today's NYT, Kristof (kind of) loves him some John McCain:

"Even for those of us who shudder at many of John McCain’s positions, there is something refreshing about a man who wins so many votes despite a major political shortcoming: he is abysmal at pandering."

That sums up what I've been trying to say about McCain around here lately. Sure I don't agree with a lot of his positions. For me at least, that is true of all the candidates, fringe or otherwise. Yet McCain's willingness to buck his party on torture and immigration, his willingness to give potential voters bad news, his steadfast opposition to earmarks, endears him to me in a very real way.

Kristof goes even further and claims to see a trend:

"It’s also striking that Barack Obama is leading a Democratic field in which he has been the candidate who is least-scripted and most willing to annoy primary voters, whether in speaking about Reagan’s impact on history or on the suffering of Palestinians.

All of this is puzzlingly mature on the part of the electorate. A common complaint about President Bush is that he walls himself off from alternative points of view, but the American public has the same management flaw: it normally fires politicians who tell them bad news."

I have to say that in my view, Obama is telling his base what it wants to hear. They may be his sincere beliefs, but I don't see him telling unions that NAFTA is here to stay or anything remotely like that. The only reason one might think he's annoying primary voters is from the Clinton campaign's desperate attempts to get the primary voters annoyed with him.

Sigh. Just, Sigh.

A question: If this had been a for-profit hospital, would this have happened?

Answer: no. Sigh.


Unused hospital razed in Nigeria

A fully-equipped hospital that lay unused for two years has burned to the ground in northern Nigeria.

The General Hospital in Maiduguri was built in 2006 but the state government refused to open it until the president came to cut the ribbon.

Several surgical theatres, the intensive care ward, and the clinical section which held millions of dollars of equipment were all destroyed.

The president was due to visit the hospital next month to open it.

Borno State Governor Ali Modu Sheriff blamed the fire on arsonists who wanted to damage his political reputation.

"There is not one hospital owned by a state government that has the type of world class equipment we had in there." Ali Modu Sheriff, Governor of Borno state

The governor had refused to open the hospital, which was ready for patients in June 2006, until former President Olusegun Obasanjo came to the state.

His visit was postponed several times, the last being just two months before the election in 2007.

His successor Umaru Yar'adua was due to visit later next month.