Saturday, May 30, 2009

Turnabout: A German Restaurant in NC

So, I took some pretty abusive comments for my surprise at the non-Mexican Mexican food here in Erlangen.

I figured turnabout was fair play, so when the Lovely Ms. Mungowitz and I were in Wilmington, NC, and we espied the following sign, we knew it was kismet: You gotta admit; that has CONSIDERABLE culinary tragicomic potential. Not "Die Münchener" (Americans wouldn't know that meant "German"), or "Villy's" (I'm trying to keep with the Chilli's theme). A generic name: The German Cafe.

We go in. Beautiful old place (old for North Carolina, about 175 years for the main building, though it was a port facility until the 1930s) in the Cotton Exchange. Playing Beethoven (6th or 7th symphony, I don't know them well enough to distinguish) on a nice stereo system. (Technically, Beethoven only lived in Germany until he was 22, when he moved to Vienna. But Austrian music is better than "The Most Horrible Hits from the 70s, 80s, and Today" you hear in REAL German restaurants.)

I'm a little scared. The building itself, though, with the Beethoven playing softly, does much to settle me down. Check this: The LMM orders a salad (Oh, really?), but I have to try to sample the "German" part of the menu to see just how apocalyptic it is. Beer list: domestics? bottles? AAAAARGH! I order unsweetened iced tea. It comes....with ICE. This is no German place!

Except that then I see the actual beer list. A fine variety of actual German beers, on tap, including a very fine Hefe Weisse. I ordered the Wurst plate (going for the knockwurst), which comes with sauer kruat, kartoffelsalat, and bread, as you see on the menu...

The waitress, dressed in a modest dirndl, brings the food. Note that it looks quite tasty, that the side dishes actually LOOK like sauer kraut and potato salad, and the the Hefe Weisse is served in a proper Hefe Weisse glass, and is properly cloudy. Overall, a decent B. Any German who ate this meal would be disappointed (the bread was horrible, though it is standard American "brown" bread, soft, gummy, and tasteless), but not amazed. The knockwurst was quite good, the sauer kraut was that weak kind without spice, but with some rye seeds added, and the potato salad was just okay. BUT IT WAS A WURST, WITH KRAUT AND POTATO AND BREAD. That is a German meal, no matter how poorly executed. Further, the ham on the LMM's salad.... delightful fresh lettuce, and oh, the ham. German meats generally, and ham in particular, are just at a higher standard than the U.S. And this ham was genuinely first rate.

Finally, on the language question: the owner, and one employee, were both native German speakers. No repeat of the "pollo" incident here.

So, tote up the score: Hefe Weisse, wurst, and ham all very acceptable quality. Side dishes were mediocre, but at least they were the correct side dishes. Adding the watermelon slice was charming, an American touch. But it did not DISPLACE the correct side dishes (at the German Mexican restaurant, you may recall, the cabbage with mayo was presented INSTEAD of rice/beans/etc. that should accompany a Mexican meal).

Plus, The German Cafe had a nice tapestry of a fine German schloss, in a dark corner. The decor was legit. Like I said, solid B. American German beats German Mexican.

Adventures in State-Sponsored Autism

This post has two parts, the whiny Americentric part, and the more rational part.

WHINY AMERICENTRISM: Holy cow, is it ever strange walking around at the Bergkirchweih, or for that matter in any crowd in Franconia. You are, in the eyes and minds of everyone around you, a rock to avoided or elbowed aside. A complicated rock, because you are moving, but nonetheless a landscape feature without feelings or goals of your own.
So, suppose for example some lady is trying to push a stroller through a narrow space, holding a toddler in one hand and a backpack in the other. You, at the other end of the narrow space, stop and smile, indicating that she should come ahead (it's too narrow to pass each other.) Immediately the people behind will brush past, not even trying to avoid pushing you, and will walk through the narrow space. This will continue basically indefinitely. As far as they are concerned, unless they know the lady, or you, personally, you can just go screw.

Same thing at the grocery (yes, I used the Euro this time). If you leave a space, the person behind you will cut around you to take the space, even if you clearly trying to let someone past. After a while, I switched, and starting giving people the forearm myself. A little old lady tried to push past me, and I rammed her cart right into the bean cans. She didn't get mad, didn't say a thing.

It's like a pick-up basketball game, same rules. A really egregious foul would get you into a fight. But you don't call incidental contact, and "incidental" means no ambulance. And, in a pick-up basketball game, you would never tell your opponent, "you go ahead, I'll wait;" and then smile at them. But it is annoying to someone of Southern (southern US, not southern German) sensibilities. We tend to negotiate space, smile at each other, and even talk and laugh. It is considered actively rude here in Franconia to talk to someone unless you have been introduced. Asking for help is okay; that's the exception. But looking someone in the eye, smiling, talking: all way out of bounds.

RATIONAL PART: Fact is, I am the one being rude. These are the rules here; I can accept that, or leave. Trying to insist on my parochial conception of "manners" is actually pretty bizarre.

Look, the fact is that as long as everyone has the SAME expectations, and same conceptions of manners, it's all good. The problem is when you get a mix. Several times, I have caused minor bike-bump accidents when I slowed down to let someone in. No one, including the person being let in, expects that. And the fact is that they don't NEED to be let in. They are very skillful bike riders, and if the person merging just pushes in, the others accommodate skillfully and rapidly, though minimally. It goes much faster than the American system, where letting someone in is a courtesy, one that can be actively withheld. It would be rude here to EITHER (1) swerve to deny another bike a space, obviously and on purpose, OR (2) to slow down to let them in, making everyone else have to swerve unexpectedly. Think of the times in the US you have seen one car wave another car in, or obviously swerve to KEEP them from getting in. Neither of those things would happen here. And, when I think about it, I'm not sure but that this is a better system. (Though, they really should let the lady with the stroller, the kid, and the backpack through. I'm going to throw somebody through a fence if that happens again.)

So, *I* am the one being the jerk. When I think it over, I can see that that is clearly true. But it does take some getting used to, as others have noted.

Another example, from the US: Consider the "Pittsburgh Left Turn." Read this, for just a second, and then come back. Okay, got it?

Now, if a lot of people NOT from Pittsburgh are driving in Pittsburgh, there will be accidents. Who is being the jerk? Well, no one. The problem is a mix of cultures, and the consequent divergence of expectations and norms.

(I should acknowledge that NeanderBill told me about the Pittsburgh Left. And he knows from Left, I tell you).

Wow! Repeat After Me: Correlation N.E. Causation

Checkthis:

The relationship between frequency of family dinner and adolescent problem behaviors after adjusting for other family characteristics

Bisakha Sen, Journal of Adolescence, forthcoming

Objective: To examine the association between frequency of family dinners (FFD) and selected problem behaviors for adolescents after adjusting for family connectedness, parental awareness, other family activities, and other potentially confounding factors.

Methods: Data are drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997. The primary variable of interest is self-reported FFD in a typical week. Problem behaviors studied are substance-use, physical violence, property-destruction, stealing, running away from home, andgang membership. Multivariate logistic models are estimated for each behaviors. Linear regression models are estimated for behavior-frequency for the sub-samples engaging in them. Analysis is done separately by gender.

Results: FFD is negatively associated with substance-use and running away for females; drinking, physical violence, property-destruction, stealing and running away for males.

Conclusion: Family meals are negatively associated to certain problem behaviors for adolescents even after controlling rigorously for potentially confounding factors. Thus, programs that promote family meals are beneficial.


I am willing to believe that FFDs stand in for a host of unobservable features of family life, and so it is a good predictive variable. No worries; you can use it. But it is absurd to think that it is the actual family dinner that CAUSES the salubrious effects.

In fact, I'm pretty sure that being required to have LOTs more family sit downs with Jim and the little woman at the Angus ancestral home would have produced MORE of the "running away behavior" the study finds is here reduced. At a minimum, I know I was pretty big on "running away" from the FFD.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Poverty: It's All Relative

The reason that so many of my leftist friends want to insist that poverty is always just relative is that any objective measure of poverty leads to the conclusion that capitalism is an outrageous success. Only if you raise the sins of envy and covetousness to the status of the moral virtue "fairness" can you make the case that capitalism causes poverty.

The Transformation of Hunger: The Demand for Calories Past and Present


Trevon Logan, Journal of Economic History, June 2009, Pages 388-408

Abstract: According to conventional income measures, American and British industrial workers in the late nineteenth century were two to four times as wealthy as those in developing countries today. Estimated calorie expenditure elasticities of American and British industrial workers based on the 1888 Cost of Living Survey are greater than calorie elasticity estimates for developing countries today, which suggest that yesterday's wealthy workers were hungrier than today's poor. The result is robust to numerous criticisms. The finding implies an extraordinary improvement in nutritional well-being among the poor in the last century that has not been captured by our income estimates.

Bergkirchweih

Okay, you may not speak German.

But, this video of the Bergkirchweih gives you an idea of the current events here in Erlangen. Here is the home page: Mai 28 - Juni 8---Prost!

Though, lest you get the wrong idea, let me assure that my own participation is purely as an observer. Of course, I'd hate to be RUDE, and so I have a few beers. The big 1 liter ones. Per hour. Also, while it is certainly true that some of the young ladies wear dirndls that can barely contain their....enthusiasm, I always avert my eyes. No, really.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gentlemen: To The Hobos!!!

Visited NC for anniversary. Went with Ms. Mungowitz to the beach, at Wrightsville. And let me note that the beach makes Ms. Mungowitz a little bit crazy. In a very, very good way. MMMMMMmmmmm, the beach.

Anyway, on Tuesday, it rained really hard, most of the day. So we went to the train museum. Pretty fun. The highlights of the trip included a little kid who was SO excited about trains his grandma could not get him to leave. She even tried the McDonalds thing: "Aren't you hungry? For french fries?" Little kid stood his ground, though. "Yes, I'm hungry. But not hungry enough to leave the TRAINS!" Little kid was conducting his own free lance guided tours: "Stand over here! You can see better. Now look at this..." Very cute.

On the darker side, there was this sign: Is this a rarely used toast? ("Lets raise our glasses....TO THE HOBOS!") Or is it a kind of hunt, like "Ride to the hounds....to see if they have treed any hobos!"

State Buys the Farm....

North Carolina is busy trying to buy itself an Apple orchard, a server farm.

Unbelievable. This is not a production facility. This is a set of large, dark buildings with extra HVAC.

Sigh. Clearly, it would be wrong to single out one company, and say, "We hate you. We are going to tax you extra, and use the money to benefit your competitors."

It would be wrong to do that to TWO companies. Or THREE. And so on.

Why is it okay to tax N-1 companies extra, and then give the proceeds to Apple?

One of the key principles advanced by Hayek, and Buchanan, is generality. You can't discriminate. If there is a tax benefit, it has to go to all businesses.

Is that weak? Would it allow lots of statist folly? Of course. But we are violating even that weak principle.

The ultimate counter-cyclical asset: A prudent politician's popularity

They're rare but they do exist.

Consider Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile. Her government steadfastly grew a "rainy day fund" throughout the latest commodity boom and her popularity took a huge hit. Now though, the rainy day has arrived, Concertación is putting up a giant umbrella and Michelle is in tall cotton:

"For Chile's governing Concertación coalition, prudence is providing a belated political boost. The government is more popular today during the global recession than it ever was during the copper boom years. President Michelle Bachelet has a 67% approval rating, up 25 points since last August."

I know that the linked article and others have given Finance Minister Andres Velasco a lot of credit for the prudent policies, but it was Bachelet's butt on the line. She appointed him, she gave him cover, and she stuck with him when people were burning him in effigy. To me, she is the hero of the story, not Velasco.

This is not to say that Velasco had it easy. According to the article:

Mr. Velasco's policies came under fire from within his own coalition, which feared being voted out of office. "Are we going to hand over to the Right a government with $20 billion or $30 billion in the till?" said Sen. Frei, who served one term as president in the 1990s. "That is crazy."

Bloggers mocked the handsome and well-groomed finance minister as el metrosexual. Some politicians saw Mr. Velasco as an out-of-touch, Ivy League technocrat. "I was a friend of Velasco's father, but the son is arrogant and would not listen," says Sen. Adolfo Zaldívar, who was drummed out of the Concertación partly because of his attacks on Mr. Velasco.

But again, the clear hero is Bachelet. She stood up to Frei (who currently is running a hideously bad campaign to be the next Concertación President) and booted Zaldívar. All Velasco had to do was cry his eyes out at home each night. After all, his fallback position was to go back to Harvard.

Hat Tip to the redoubtable Mrs. Angus.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Brown paper packages tied up in string

Here is a list of my current favorite songs. They are not all new, but they all are currently in heavy rotation at Chez Angus and give me goose bumps and command my full attention when I hear them.


1. "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver. The best song on an amazingly good album

2. "Paper Lace" by Swan Lake. This is an excellent Spencer Krug song. 'nuff said.

3. "Girl on the Wing" by the Shins. They are still good, but that first album was just magic.

4. "Sycamore" by Bill Callahan. This song has haunted me over well over a year now.

5. "Little Bit" by Lykke Li. She is the bomb. I could have put "I'm good, I'm gone" here too.

OMG! Mungowitz has started a TREND

Just what I always wanted

Thank you Mr. President!! My lifelong dream of owning General Motors is on the verge of being realized. Yours too people! We will be getting the deal of a lifetime, a 70% ownership share.

What a sweet deal. Look at it this way. Who is gonna get all the gubmint contracts? Damn straight, it will be us! What's gonna happen when people still keep refusing to buy our cars? Can you say increased tax incentives boys and girls? Plus, our main domestic rival, Ford, was so stupid as to stay solvent so they will now have absolutely no chance going forward against us and our broker President O.

We are in the tall cotton now my friends. Kick back and enjoy.

With this new addition to our already excellent portfolio of Chrysler, AIG, BOA, Citibank and Fannie & Freddie, we are very, very close to step 3.

I think I'll use my earnings to buy a car!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hey Tyler: Waxman-Markey is a JOBS bill!!

No wonder Tyler can't suss out the Waxman-Markey Bill. He thinks it's about climate change. Silly pundit, everybody knows it's a jobs bill:


Makeover

So...the Lovely Ms. Mungowitz had suggested that perhaps I should do something about the gray in my hair. Since I don't have to look at it, and the LMM is the one I want to be interested in looking, I said sure.

Got to go see family friend and oracle, Raquel. (Raquel also did the earlier hair work, btw). So, Raquel suggested we do the cap thing: And then once the chemicals are placed on the hair, you have to do the heat thing: The results....soon. I should note that Raquel is pretty darned excited about having a fellow Puertorriqueña on the Supreme Court, as was just announced (as a nominee, I should note....)

Some sad sentences about Africa

From Paul Collier in the Guardian:

"The global commodity boom that ended abruptly in September was the second since African independence. Africa has yet to diversify from dependence on primary commodity exports, so these booms were huge opportunities, pumping far more money into some governments than aid will ever do. Last year, Angola alone received from oil and diamonds more than double the entire aid inflows to Africa."


Why is this sad? Well (1) it is a very sorry state of affairs when aid flows are the benchmark of size for an entire continent. And (2) Collier thinks these booms were a wasted opportunity for development because they pumped so much money into some African governments (which is apparently a necessary precondition for development?)!

In my opinion, one of the biggest problems with traditional aid flows is that they are government to government (or multilateral bureaucracy to government).

Collier lists Botswana as a country whose government used commodity boom money to "lift the society out of poverty", but if you look at the graph in the post directly below this one you can plainly see that Botswana is one of the few countries whose Human Devlopment Index score is way worse than what its GDP per capita would predict.

YIKES!!!!!!

The rest of the article doesn't get any better, but is well worth reading.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Soylent green is PEOPLE!!

Economists often get criticized for being obsessed about GDP. We are told (correctly, I might add) that income is not the be all and end all and that other things are equally if not more important.

However, what people often miss is the instrumental argument that economists often make, viz. that income is extremely highly correlated with these "other things" and makes an excellent simple summary statistic.

For a great example of this kind of argument, see Srinivasan, T.N., 1994, Human Development: A New Paradigm or Reinvention of the Wheel? American Economic Review 84(2): 238-243.

Or you could just check out the awesome graph that Justin Wolfers just made:




That's right people, the rank correlation between the UN's Human Development Index and good old income per capita is .95 (out of a maximum of 1.0).

GDP: It's not just for breakfast anymore!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Bad Business

The latest in reality TV is coming to the History Channel: "Expedition Africa: Stanley and Livingstone". Here 3 white guys and an ex-Miami Dolphins cheerleader turned anthropologist will re-trace Stanley's trek through Tanzania to find the lost Livingstone.

YIKES!!!!!

People, Henry Stanley, not to put too fine a point on it, was a true Mizzle-Fizzle. A lying, cheating, abusing swine. And a show about Whitey trekking through Africa is just so incredibly tone deaf and dumb.

Instead of watching the show, I recommend reading this book: "King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror & Heroism in Colonial Africa"

Incredibly, the producer of the show (Mark Burnett of "Survivor" ) mentions retracing Pizarro's "path" through Peru as a possible follow up.

YIKES!!!!!!!!

As a ps to this story, the intrepid NY Times seems a bit unclear about what causes malaria:

"modern conveniences were allowed. That meant no bottled water, and the greatest difficulty the expedition came to face did not involve the prevalent lions, snakes or bugs, but nearly nonexistent potable water. This led to what Mr. Burnett described — in oblique terms — as a true life-threatening event. “We had a real case of malaria,” he said."

Uh, sirs? Malaria comes from 'skeeter bites and 'skeeters is bugs!