Saturday, May 02, 2009

Keep those germy humans away from my pigs

American farmers are concerned that their pigs might catch the swine flu from people! I understand that this actually could happen, but it's still funny to think about isn't it?

Plus some of the farmers seem a bit insular, if not clueless in their viewpoint:

"That is the biggest concern, that your herd could somehow contract this illness from an infected person," said Kansas hog farmer Ron Suther, who is banning visitors from his sow barns and requiring maintenance workers, delivery men and other strangers to report on recent travels and any illness before they step foot on his property.

Ummm, isn't the biggest concern that the death rates we seem to be seeing in Mexico will continue and spread to other parts of the world?

But apparently, Mr. Suther is not alone in his view:

Those sentiments were echoed by producers around the nation this week as fears of a possible global flu pandemic grew, with more than 200 people sickened, including more than 100 in the United States, and at least 177 dead, all but one in Mexico.

"There is no evidence of this new strain being in our pig populations in the United States. And our concern very much is we don't want a sick human to come into our barns and transmit this new virus to our pigs," said National Pork Producers chief veterinarian Jennifer Greiner.

Look, I like bacon as much (maybe more?) as the next guy but I think we still have more important things to worry about right now.

Tell it like it is

On the fantastic internet site: "Postcards from yo momma", where people report emails/texts they've received from their mothers, I was reminded yet again what real people think about me and my chosen profession.

Here is the relevant entry:

Words of Encouragement

Backstory: After I got a D on my economics exam.

"Honey, econ is for boring and ugly people. You shouldn’t be in that class, you’re too pretty and creative. I’m sick of these hard classes. Next semester sign up for gym classes."

The Trains, and the Riots, Run on Time

Walpurgisnacht goes off on schedule. I can imagine the scene in a bar, in Berlin.

"One more beer?"

"Sounds good. Oh, wait, I can't. I'll be late for the riot. I've already missed the bonfire. If I don't hurry, I'll miss the scripted spontaneous outrage of the masses, the inevitable accidental confrontation of left and right wing extremist groups, and the beating of the police with random pieces of lumber. Dude, I gotta fly!"

Still, it could have been worse. Predictions were that it might be.

(Note: the photo at top is actually a bonfire from Chapel Hill, after UNC won the national NCAA championship. My older son is one of those people jumping. Another example of a scripted riot. Interesting. We all need to satisfy our atavistic urges to dance around a big-ass fire, I guess.)

UPDATE: Anonyman writes about the paradox of rioting against war. He also notes that 273 German policemen were injured, some of them fairly seriously. Why?

Excerpt from the news story:

Rainer Wendt, chairman of one of Germany's national police unions, criticized Berlin interior minister Erhart Koerting's handling of the operation, saying protesters were allowed too much time to get out of hand and urging that a "no tolerance" policy be adopted in the future.

"Whoever throws a stone or wears a mask must be immediately taken out of play," he told the Neuen Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper.

Koerting condemned the violence, but said overall the police response could be considered a success.

"The deployment concept saw many different measures of violence prevention available, which the police quickly and effectively were able to use when it came to criminal acts," he said.

Konrad Freiberg, the head of Germany's other major police union, said forces had been cut back by 10,000 officers across the country since 2000, making it difficult to muster enough police for major confrontations.

"On days like May 1 we are on the fringes of our capacity," he told Bild newspaper.

Friday, May 01, 2009

M in Dland: Observations

Things have settled down enough that I won't be posting daily just on my time here. I will continue to offer observations on things I find interesting. You may or may not find them interesting, also.

OBSERVATION THE FIRST. My class was supposed to start at 4 p.m. Lots of people came in at 4:10, and then more at 4:15. I asked if people had other classes or commitments that made it hard for them to get there at 4:00. Two women nodded, one quite vigorously. So I said, "Okay, so let's start at 4:10, and actually start on time then."

And a young man started to protest quite vigorously. He said that the start time, by university rule, was supposed to be 4, not 4:10. I pointed out that he was one of the people who had come in late, at 4:15. And he said (he really said this), "Yes, if the class starts at 4:00, I come at 4:15. If the class starts at 4:10, am I supposed to come at 4:25? Then the class would be too short."

I started to ask the young man if he was related to Herbert Kitschelt (who appears to live by the same rule), but held my tongue. Now, either the kid was yanking my chain, in which case well played by the kid; he was totally deadpan. OR, he was serious. In which case, even MORE well played, because that is just a fantastic question. He totally shut me down.

UPDATE: Interesting. My office mate Helmut points out (and a commenter points out also) the tradition of the "academic quarter." So, in fact, a class that starts at 4:00 is understood to start at 4:15. You can look it up....

UPDATE II: VeniBill writes: Across continental Europe generally, when you schedule a meeting for business- but particularly academics- it is expected that you start 15 minutes after the advertised time. And this isn't just like a [lazy person stereotype], it's actually a long standing tradition that has some elaborate origins. There is a German word that translates to something like "the prerogatives of a free citizen" that is supposedly linked to this custom. The upper/educated classes prided themselves on not being "slaves" to the clock like the working man on a timecard. But whatever the origins it is definitely very official custom.

Take a look at the second paragraph on this site ( under the heading Akademisches Viertel)

This was periodically an issue when I was at [European University], and people would clarify if the meant continental time when the advertised a talk (default was British time).

Also, from the Wikipedia entry on Globalization:
Trends such as outsourcing and offshoring are a direct offshoot of globalization and have created a work environment in which cultural diversity can be problematic. A U.S. company where punctuality is important and meetings always start on time faces adjustments if it opens an office in South America or France, where being 10 to 15 minutes late to a meeting is considered acceptable: being on time is called 'British Time'.

OBSERVATION THE SECOND. My good friend VeniBill also writes: "It just occurs to me - be attentive regarding the fruit purchasing customs. I'm not sure what the local grocery is like there, but they often have a machine near the produce section that weighs your fruit/veggie (after you punch in the corresponding ID number) and then prints out a barcode that you bring with you to the cashier. If you just walk up to the checkout with a bag of fruit like we do in the US they look at you like you are crazy; and cashiers are drawn from a demographic that really doesn't speak much English. And then all the Germans behind you in line get so upset because it takes awhile to resolve and they'll probably miss their train because of it."

Without going into details, let me just say that everything VeniBill says is true, exactly true. Let me also say that this advice would have been A LOT MORE F*****G USEFUL TWO DAYS AGO, before I proved the correctness of every aspect of it. It seemed like everybody in the store was pissed off at me. Any other little tidbits, VeniBill?

OBSERVATION THE THIRD. Today, of course, is May 1. Now more often a "labour holiday," it comes from Walpurgisnacht, itself a celebration that comes from pagan quarter equinox celebrations that are thousands of years older than THAT.

Anyway, one of my Erlangen colleagues came in yesterday and asked me where I was going to travel on the "holiday." I said that I was going to travel to the office, and get some work done.

Colleague was aghast. "But it is a holiday. The offices are closed!" I had a "what would Angus do?" moment; I pulled out my key, and said the office doors were always closed, until they were open. If the doors were always open, no key would be necessary. And if the doors were always closed, they would be called "walls." The advantage of the key is that I could have the door open, or closed, as suited me. (And, yes, you can bet that this is PRECISELY what Angus would have done, in more or less these some words. Trust me.)

Colleague: " I mean the offices THEMSELVES are closed. Not the doors, the offices. It is a holiday."

Now, this fellow is a very nice guy, and really is very helpful in every way. Not as artlessly sincere as Eva, perhaps, because NO ONE is as sincere as Eva, but still a very nice guy.

So, I said, "Oh, now I see. A HOLIDAY. Of course. It was just the language problem. Perhaps I will go to Nurnberg, then. Or ride my bike, if the weather is nice."

This met with MUCH more approval. And, I was in the office by 8:30, safe in the knowledge that my secret would be secure. Since everyone else is off rioting in Berlin*...

*From Wikipedia: In Berlin traditional leftist Mayday riots usually start at Walpurgis Night in the Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg. I'm not sure why, but the idea of a "traditional riot," held at the same time and place every year, fills me with happiness.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some good advice for Mungowitz

Here is how at least one wise person deals with a bountiful breakfast buffet:

Gmail Kerfuffle

Interesting copyright dispute. A downright Rechtsstreit.

Gmail (yes, regular old Gmail) cannot be used directly in Germany.

If you have Deutsch settings on your search engines, they will take you here

And the reason is here....

At first, I thought, "That is dumb." But, in fact, the name "Gmail" is taken in Germany. And, if you just linked German searches for "gmail" to the American Gmail....well, that's not right either. If the guy owns the trademark in Germany, then he owns it. You can't use a link to bypass his business, in case people are actually looking for the German "G-mail."

So, Herr Giersch, I see your point, and you are correct, sir.

Still, it's a hassle. I think I'll demand a 50% refund from Google....

UPDATE: Luc points out, in comments, that Google Mail solves the problem. And, of course, it does. But I thought it didn't, because I could NOT sign on in Germany. At least, I could not sign on using a German KEYBOARD. The @ sign and the # sign are in different places, and they must have a different digital hex address on the keyboard. Or something. Because when I changed my google password, getting rid of the odd symbols, now Google Mail Dland works fine.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

KPC exclusive: What Steve Jobs has been up to lately

Mungowitz in Deutschland--Day 4

A very busy, somewhat productive day.

Breakfast today smashing. EXTRA crusty brown bread. I thought I´d get tired of leberwurst on brown bread, but not yet.

The most intrepid Jans-Jorg took down to visit the trolls of the OIT grotto twice today, and scored a major victory: my laptop is now registered on the University system! If you didn´t know it was OIT, you still would know: there is just an OIT "way" of dressing and acting. I wonder if there troll manuals, and grotto design books?

Worked a lot preparing for class. Lots of complaints that my class is "too hard." They are probably right, on reflection. I am expecting them to read in English, and there are too many readings. And, as I noted in class, there IS a language problem: MINE. I don´t speak German. So I asked what topics we should narrow down on, and that worked out pretty well.

A strange thing: after class, all, or nearly all, the students, knocked their knuckles pretty hard on the table. It was like applause, except it was even more like they all knocked their knuckles on the table. Is this common? I´ve never heard of it before. It was a thank you sort of thing, or maybe a thank God it´s over thing.

Finally: I am OUTED as a blogger; mz colleagues are reading. Hope I don´t get fired. Sorry about the Belgium, thing, really. "Advancing through Networks" is an excellent motto, and I mean that.

This week's sign of the apocalypse

Mungowitz in Deutschland--Day 3

By comparison, today was just boring....which is great, because that means it was academically productive.

I had breakfast (ummmmmm.... leberwurst and prosciutto on hard brown bread), and then rode the big girl's bike to the office. (Short movie of the office attached to this post).

At lunch, I walked down to the Erlangen Arcaden. Very fine mall. Not sure why I was surprised, but in that mall I felt like I was IN the U.S. McDonald's (no ice in the drinks, though, American pig!), Burger King, and 20 different pizza places. LOTS of people, spending E's. Siemens is the big employer here, and they are still doing fine.

Took the Gbike up to scout the location of my apartment (I am in a hotel until Sunday). Beautiful. It is the basement of a house owned by Herrn. Ludwig, also a prof at Erlangen. Near the Berch, and right across the street from a terrific park.

For dinner, I persuaded the intrepid Jans-Jorg to leave his habilitation work, and show me a nice place. He finds, I pay, was the deal, and a fine deal it was.

We walked over to Mein lieber Schwan, a very old restaurant near the river to the north.

And, since it is now asparagus season here in was time to cast asparagus! I had a truly delightful bowl of wild garlic soup, and then a giant plate of asparagus with bowls of butter and hollandaise on the side. I got a small plate of Franconian wurst, and began the feast. The asparagus is not what I am used to, yellow green and with less of the soft upper tip. But it is extremely fine, and the dark bier is a fine compliment. As always, representin' Herb, going YUMtown.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Words to live by

Uncle Sam does NOT believe in photoshop

I thought this administration was cutting edge and tech savvy. You know, like cool and all.

Guess not as the "White House Military Office" approved flying a 747 low over Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty while being trailed by a fighter plane without letting the public know what was going on.

Why in the hell would they do something so sadistic?

"An administration official said the purpose of the photo op was to update file photos of the president's plane near the Lady Liberty."


Air Force 1 has glamor shots? Really? And now is a good time to take them?

Here's how the photos were taken:

"An Air Force combat photographer took pictures from one of the fighter jets, administration officials said."

I'm sorry, a WHAT??

"Hello I'm Lance O'Reilly, Air Force combat photographer at your service!"

Dear President Obama. I have some ideas about budget cuts for you!

Are you kidding me??

I still think this may be a hoax. Denver 121, New Orleans 63??


Hornets score 24 points in the entire second half?

Hornets have 10 assists and 26 turnovers?

People, this was a HOME GAME for the Hornets.

Wow. Take the fork out of the corpse of the Pistons and stick it in the Hornets. They are done.

On the plus side, the price of this bad boy probably just went up:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mungowitz in Deutschland--Day 2

I wake up at 4:30 a.m. Now, you think, "Ah, the time difference." Well, no. 4:30 am in Dland is 10:30 pm in Raleigh. So that's not it.

After reading until 6 a.m., I go for a run. Quite a bit of traffic already, coming into Erlangen. No drunks, no beggars, no derelicts that I could see. Had a nice long run, beautiful morning. Shower up, and then go to plug in my computer.

This should not be a problem. I have an adaptor, and the transformer on nearly all laptops is 100V - 240V, so I don't even think about it. "It" being the in-line aftermarket surge adaptor I have plugged into the transformer. I plug it in, and there is a loud "whap" sound. Lights go out. I hear footsteps, excited discussion in German in downstairs. Should I just play dumb? Actually, not a problem: I *was* dumb, and I should fess up.

I open the door, and the hotel proprietor "Tilo" is coming up the stairs. I say, "It's unplugged, and I won't plug it in again, ever." Tilo nods gravely, and goes back down to flip the circuit breaker.

Go down to breakfast. Pretty elaborate but to the English / American breakfaster, strange. Now I see why Germans are pissed off when I take them to an American hotel breakfast buffet. That's not what they eat. There are several kinds of breads, including some wonderful dark brown bread. Cereal. Fruit. Yogurt. And huge trays of stuff to put on bread, including large tins of potted leberwurst. And....a big tray of cold cuts and cheese. Salami, olive loaf.

I am pretty excited about this. Because this is traditional Munger food. Not at breakfast, but when you are in heaven who looks at the clock? My dad, Herbert Elmer Munger, had two rules: 1. Everything is better when it is put into a sam'ich. 2. Leberwurst is the single finest food on earth.

So, I make a fat leberwurst sam'ich, with the brown bread. I have some yogurt and fruit. And then a hot roll with cheese and salami/olive loaf. And then a hot roll with marmalade, part blackberry and part strawberry. All good, but the leberwurst stands out as the finest. Here's to you, Herb: I'm representin'.

I am picked up at 9 am by the intrepid Jans-Jorg. We go to the Ausland office, to get my paperwork done. And in the International Office is Xenia. Xenia is the university "fixer." Her job is to take foreign faculty through the bureaucracy, in hopes that they get signed up and can teach before they have to return to their home country after a year. Xenia is truly remarkable; I asked what she did before this, and she answered, "I was an attorney, but I like the challenges of this job." Wow.

We get the forms filled out, put them with the forms I already filled out, and head for the state office. It's like a DMV office in the U.S., only (I have to admit) way cleaner, way less crowded, 10 times faster, and with employees who have at least neutral attitudes toward the "customers." At U.S. DMV offices, the most polite thing you will hear is "Eat shit and die, loser" from the employees. I suspect that the difference is that Germany has a long tradition of bureaucracy being an honest, respectable job, instead of organized theft. Overall, I'd prefer my bureaucrats pissed off and surly, so we don't get used to having them around. But I have to admit that the service ethic was a little more fun here than in, say, the D.C. DMV.

Then we go for the final three steps: file the forms and pay the money, talk to the chief bureaucrat, and then get my work permit. Filing/paying is easy. We wait in line, about 20 minutes (1/5 of the time I waited at the Raleigh Social Security Office, just to get a new card in a country where I was already a citizen). Then we are ushered into the august and very placid presence of....Frau Rastoder-Dragon.

Frau Rastoder-Dragon looks over the forms with great care, occasionally making approving noises (about lines on forms that are particularly well filled out?), and then signs the paperwork. She lines up six forms vertically on her desk, like a spread of cards on blackjack table, exactly equally spaced. Then she stamps them with a large stamp (black), a small round stamp (red), and another large stamp (black). This takes her much less time than it takes me to tell it: 18 whaps on the ink pad and the form, no wasted motion and almost faster than the eye can see. Frau R-Dragon has excellent helmet hair, with bangs in front sprayed and teased a good 4 inches out in front of her face, a grey-blonde visor. But she is both fast and helpful, making some suggestions to Xenia (who has now been working on this for two hours, making it take about six hours less than it would have taken me alone).

Xenia is fired up now. She charges up the stairs (she never walks less than 5 miles per hour, and I have to trot to keep up, which must look pretty ridiculous. We get the work permit, and the "research" visa is pasted into my passport. It even has a biometric digital photo. I have a very cool passport now, because of this. You are welcome to mention to other people that you know me, if you want.

Then, off we go, Xenia race-walking, me trotting, and the indefatigable Jans-Jorg bringing up the rear. We go to most feared place on earth: the University HR office.

At HR, I need four things. I have three things. Xenia makes impassioned pleas, as if I were a client in the dock, facing the noose. She presents evidence, makes her closing arguments. The HR lady, who seems nice enough, is unmoved.

Here are the four things I need:

1. Form filled out, and letter with notarized seal and date, certifying that I have no criminal record in the U.S., and no current outstanding warrants.
2. Proof of health insurance that works in Germany.
3. The signed contract for employment by DAAD.
4. A letter certifying that I will continue to be employed at Duke, and will not be fired in the next four months, which would entitle me to German unemployment benefits if I tried to stay in the country.

I have, believe it or not, 1-3. Xenia had told me before that I needed #4, but I had forgotten. The HR lady said that I needed a letter from my department chair saying I would not be fired. I pointed out that *I* was the department chair, and that I was prepared to state right here and now, for the record, that I would not fire me, at least not in the next four months.

Xenia translated this (perhaps taking out some of the sarcasm). HR lady stands firm, standing for principle and the bureaucratic way. They work out a deal: I send an email to Duke, with the exact language needed (I will be employed by Duke for at least the next four months, and my retirement will be withdrawn from my Duke paycheck in that time). They can make a PDF of this, and send it back via email, provided it is signed by "a dean." We all shake hands, as if this concession from HR (I get my email account at Erlangen TODAY, instead of when this very important final letter arrives) is a major arms reduction agreement.

We go outside. Xenia is elated; another important case won, the dragons slain, the princess (me) saved. Xenia speed walks back to her office, disappearing in seconds. Jans-Jorg and I head back to the Institut für Politische Wissenschaft, my new summer job, where I am to meet the Lehrstuhl II, Clemens Kauffmann, for lunch. Jans-Jorg has to go off to teach....I owe him big.

Have a nice lunch, sitting outside on a beautiful day, and talk about political theory. The Institute has a a number of things for me to do, talks and lectures, and it sounds like it will be a lot of fun. Herr Kauffmann wastes much of his afternoon getting me a library card, opening a bank account, and driving past the apartment he found for me (nice, very nice location, it will be really fun to move in on May 3, when it becomes available, though I will miss breakfast at the Hotel Antik). Herr Kauffmann has a meeting at 3, and I work for a while in my new office.

And, a pretty cool office it is. It is the Library of the Eric Voegelin Archiv, so I am surrounded by Voegelin's books and papers. A fine office, big windows, big desks, internet connection, and two printers. Very quiet. I'm all set up.

Except, that I need a bicycle. Back at the hotel, at 4:30 pm, I sit and brood. How can I find a place that sells bicycles? And how can I manage to buy one, without speaking any German.

At that moment, poor Jans-Jorg makes the mistake of calling to see if I need anything. I say, "Why...YES. I need a bicycle." So Jans-Jorg agrees to walk with me to go get a bike. We walk at least two miles around the city, looking at bike shops. There are pretty much NO used bikes to be had. The ones that are for sale are unbelievably expensive: 120 euro for a small rusted girl's bike with a flat tire. 350 euro for a used (extensively used) mountain bike. Erlangen has an amazing number of bikes on the street, clogging the courtyards. How can there be no used bikes? (Answer: It's a week into summer semester. Two weeks ago, I could at least have had a big selection of used bikes, though the price would have been high).

Jans-Jorg says we can go to the grocery store. Well, it's the Handelshof, a kind of super KMart arrangement. (great, great store, by the way. Excellent stuff, and quite cheap if you look around. Wonderful produce. I am happy just to find the store.)

And they do have bikes. I get a very fine bike, a big sturdy one with fenders, lights, front basket and rear clip. It's a girl's bike, but a big strong corn-fed German girl's bike. I buy my groceries, and peddle home. THe seat is low, and loose, so it gets lower. But I am now mobile, officed, and email ready. Thanks to Xenia and Jans-Jorg, I feel like a REAL boy now.

A final note: this day has made me rethink how Duke, and the U.S., treats visitors. The immigration and HR stuff would have taken a week in the U.S., and the offices are miles apart. How horrible must that be for visitors? Second, we don't generally have anyone like Jans-Jorg, who voluntarily makes visitors feel welcome (like Eva and her family did last night.) And we certainly don't have a "lawyer for the defense," like Xenia Lightning, to speed walk around and help people get through the process. Since I really, really appreciated the help, I have to say I will need to work on the Duke process when I get back. We can do better.

Mungowitz in Deutschland--Day 1

So....we DID, in fact, take off.

And fly to Frankfurt. Now, I am a bulky man, 120 kilos of twisted steel and sex appeal. (Well, the kilos part is true. I'm batting .333). And the only seat I could get is in the middle. It's a 767-400, so there are 7 seats across, in a 2-3-2 pattern with the dashes being aisles.

I'm in 24D, in the middled of the middle. I have to wait until the last
group. As I walk down the aisle carrying my enormous carry-ons, I see with terrified looks, real animal fear, from the people in the aisle seats. This is a 9 hour flight. And they are all mentally invoking the names of their private deities: "Please, God. Not the fat guy. NOT the fat guy! NOT...THE...FAT....GUY!"

I hear audible, breath-whistling sighs as I pass each row. Then I get to my row. And see....a very scared little guy, an empty seat (mine), and a reall, REALLY fat guy. Fat man and lock eyes, and nod. This is going to be a battle of wills. Who gets the armrest as they try to sleep? Les jeux sont fait, les jeux sont fait. No more bets, please.

Not one minute did I sleep. Couldn't get the armrest at all, and the little guy on my left was very talkative. Arrive in Frankfurt. German customs is a breeze. The "nothing to declare" lane is just a walk through a doorway to the exit. Trundle downstairs, and have a little trouble because I have a (wait for it, Angus) steamer trunk. (I famously put an older steamer trunk on Robert Barro's foot as he tried to get on the elevator at the 1985 AEA meetings. Barro yelped and hopped back off the elevator, and the doors closed before he could get back on. Angus, who was on the elevator, immediately announced to the elevator that this proved that Barro was correct, and that crowding out is a real effect. I claimed that all it proved is that steamer trunks can stimulate both voice and exit. But Angus won the argument, as he always does.)

Anyway, I had a steamer trunk. (A 35" x 22" x 17" steel beauty. It looked like the Millenium Falcon, if the MF were shaped like a steamer trunk.) I have another suitcase, full of books, and a big backpack, and this ridiculous steamer trunk (it weighed 68 pounds, just under the megadeath charge on overseas flights.) (Try curling 68 pounds with one hand, for several hours. It's tiring). I schlep it all to the Fernbahnhof ticket office, to take a fast ICE train to Erlangen. I need to connect through Nuremberg. I buy the ticket, splurging for first class so I can get some help with the steamer trunk. I ask the ticket guy if I can check baggage. His eyes get wide: "No! You must take own baggage on ze tren!"

And, by golly, he was right. I asked two DB employees where first class was to board on the platform (can't run fast, or at all, with the steamer trunk). The first one looked ready to slap me, and said, "It says, right on the platform." The second one said the same thing, and I pointed that whatever it said, it said it IN GERMAN, she just turned her back on me.

They finally announced that first class should board at "E" spot, and I trundled over there, sweaty and out of breath. The train arrived PRECISELY on time. The conductor got off. The other people get on. I grunt and try to roll the steamer trunk up the steps, end over end. The conductor actually said, "Man, that looks heavy!" in perfect English. He was actually pretty sympathetic, in a "No way I'm actually going to help" way.

I have to admit the train ride was good. The ICEs go fast enough it's actually disconcerting to look out the window. They are BUSTIN' through some German territory. I consider suggesting they rename the ICE trains "Pattons," but my grouchiness dissipated as I watch the rolling rurual countryside fly by. We arrive at Nuremberg 15 seconds after the scheduled time, I get off, and the track for my Erlangen train is adjacent. Don't have to move the steamer trunk.

The Erlangen train leaves 5 seconds early (assuming my watch is that accurate), and we arrive in Erlangen precisely on time. I am picked up by Eva and her husband Sebastian. And they are....the nicest people in the world.

I should point out that Angus and I don't always do that well with truly nice, sincere people. We admire them, we honestly do, but they don't know what to make of us. Eva is....well, if you are a guy, and you are twenty five, and you have these fantasies about the perfect German girl, blonde, 5 foot 10, extremely fit, shockingly beautiful? That is PRECISELY how Eva looks. (I should note that I am NOT 25, and that my own fantasies are exclusively about the lovely Ms. Mungowitz).

Eva is not sure what to make of me. She gives me her card, which has her office number (she is the department assistant, and so does lots of chores for the admins who employ me). She has already (carefully, caligraphically) hand-written her cell phone number, so I can call her and Sebastian if I need a ride or some advice on stores. I point to the bright blue writing, and say, "Wow! That's impressive. My printer doesn't have that font."

Eva stares at me, and says, "But Dr. Munger, dot ist handwritten. It is not a font." I just nod, and try to remind myself that Angus is the only one who thinks I'm funny, and he is not here.

They take me to my hotel (Hotel Antik), where I will stay for a week until my apartment is ready. I crash for three hours, and then Eva and Sebastian come to take me on a walking tour of Erlangen. Eva's mother, Sylvia, is the tour guide, and they really do a good job on the whole Hugenot thing, and the "Berch" thing. Well, we looked at the Huguenot church, and the plan of the city, and the Markgraf's castle, and etc. And we went up the hill to the Berch biergarten, and had ....bratwurst mit kraut, und bier. (I speak THAT kind of German). I was feeling tired, and jet-lagged, so I had two liters of extremely fine lager. (Eva is disgusted, I should note, though Sylvia approves and joins me in a third round). There is some singing, which may have involved me, with Sebastian loyally following along.

They drop me off at the hotel. I fall asleep, and wake up the next morning. But I take pride in the fact that I feel bad because I am hung over, NOT because I am jet-lagged. Ich must have das priorities, ja?

That's nacho cheese

This graph is floating around the interwebs (click on image for a larger version):

It's from Daniel Wilson of the SF Fed who wrote a short piece entitled, "Are fiscal stimulus funds going to the "right" states?" He defines "right" as "have the funds been allocated in a way that maximizes their potential impact on national economic growth?"

Wilson says that the answer is basically yes.

My first reaction was to wonder what exactly is going on in Connecticut?

My second was to look at the fine print. Here is what I found.

(A) The stimulus is $787 billion. The graph covers $144 billion in the Fiscal Stabilization Fund and the Fiscal Relief Fund.

(B) The data in the graph are projected state deficits and estimated state allocations from the two funds. In other words, neither variable has actually happened yet! Both estimates come from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

(C) 12 states are excluded from the graph.

(D) The regression line is from a population weighted least squares regression and all the piece says is that "The figure clearly shows a strong positive correlation between a state’s degree of fiscal strain and the amount of federal stimulus funds it is expected to receive", with no indication if "strong" means significant.

My third reaction was to remember Gavin Wright's classic 1974 RESTAT paper on the political economy of new deal spending where he claimed that a "political" model ex-plains between 58.7% and 79.6% of the variance in per capita spending over the whole period !"

If Team Obama can make the overall stimulus as economically well targeted as the above graph suggests one particular chunk of it might turn out to be, that would be progress indeed.

Hat tips to Bob Tollison and Menzie Chinn

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stick a fork in 'em

Pistons are mercifully out of the playoffs after their "stars" stunk up the Palace losing two home games to the Cavs to complete the sweep.

In two home playoff games Rasheed Wallace shot 2/13 in 60 total minutes on the court.

T. Prince? 4/15 in 65 minutes. "R.I.P." Hamilton? 8/29 in almost 79 minutes.

So their big three was a combined 14/57 or 24.5%

That's a disgrace, people.

A case of misplaced indignation

Bob Frank is all over the place in this Sunday's Economic View. I actually thought he was going to be writing a column about open borders given his first sentence: "The link between success and luck is stronger than many people think".

And then there was this bit:

"Another important message of recent research is that a person’s salary depends far more on where she is born than on her talent and effort.

For example, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal long ago, I hired a cook who had no formal education but was spectacularly intelligent and resourceful. Beyond preparing excellent meals, he could butcher a goat, thatch a roof, plaster walls, resole shoes and fix broken alarm clocks. He was also an able tinsmith and a skilled carpenter. Yet his total lifetime earnings were less than even a very lazy, untalented American might earn in a single year."

I really thought he was gonna go all Lant Pritchett on us by drawing the obvious implication of his observations and calling for increased immigration, but no, he just wants to tell people they have no business opposing tax increases.

Oh my, that's very different.

Here is probably my favorite sentence of the piece:

"The current system is much fairer than many people believe, and the president’s proposal will make it both fairer and more efficient."


Isn't there supposed to be a tradeoff between equity and efficiency? What is the magic sword that BHO wields to cut this Gordian knot?

(and on a snarkier note, if "the current system is much fairer than many people believe", why does it need to be made "fairer"?)

Here is Frank's argument for how we get a free lunch by raising taxes.

First, higher marginal tax rates are pretty much irrelevant to labor supply: "There has never been a shortage of talented people willing to work hard for success — even in countries with top rates much higher than 50 percent."

No evidence given here, and maybe it's just me but I thought he'd been arguing vociferously that it was luck, not talent and hard work that brought success

Second, more Federal tax revenues will automatically increase the efficiency of public service provison:

"It would, however, promote more efficient provision of public services, in much the same way that contingent fee contracts often promote more efficient provision of services in the private sector. For example, when lawyers are willing to waive fees unless their client wins, wrongfully injured accident victims often gain legal representation they couldn’t otherwise afford. Similarly, when government levies higher tax rates on the wealthy, we can provide public services that the wealthy and others greatly value but that would otherwise be beyond reach. Under such a tax system, the heavier tax bill becomes payable only if we’re lucky enough to end up among life’s biggest winners."

People, that has to be one of the 5 worst analogies I've read this year. I've read it 4 times and am still scratching my head. The best I can come up with is this:

The government is my lawyer and my career is a wrongful injury suit against the universe.


Of course, even if the analogy made sense, it still would have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE EFFICIENCY OF THE PROVISION OF PUBLIC SERVICES!!!